Elmwood: Day Ten

Ok, so this post is two weeks later than it should have been, but my excuse is that ever since I finished my work experience I've been incredibly busy trying to catch up on all the university work that I didn't get done whilst I was at Elmwood.

With two weeks gone since my final day there, I've had some time to reflect on the experience, and the main thought I keep coming back to, is the amount of pressure I felt I was under to have an enjoyable time. Not pressure from Elmwood, pressure from everybody else. What I mean is, for some reason, whenever I've done work experience, not just at Elmwood but anywhere, I've always felt like there's this immense pressure to have a really great time. Whenever people ask me, "oh, how did your work experience go?", I feel compelled to answer "Brilliantly! It was so unbelievably awesome, I just love the world of work!". And I can't help but feel that if I answered "Well, it was ok, but I don't think I really fit in very well, and to be honest I was bored a lot of the time", people would consider this, consider me, some kind of failure. Maybe it's normal to think this, or maybe I have some kind of complex? Who knows.

To be honest, if you'd asked me on day one, I would have said "yeah, pretty good, I like it so far". Ask me on day five, and I'd have said "eugh, it's a bit shit, no one really acknowledges that I'm even there, and I would happily not go back for my second week". Ask me again on day ten, and I'd say "actually, I almost don't want to leave, I'm actually starting to feel quite happy here". So, for want of a better metaphor, it was a bit of a rollercoaster.

Day ten was a good one. It wasn't a full day as I had to pop into uni for an hour in the morning for my weekly session with my tutor to discuss the progress, or lack thereof, of my work. So by the time I got to Elmwood it was about 11am, which meant I'd missed the Friday morning TED talk and bacon butties. Very disappointed about that. From what I remember (it's not quite so clear in my mind now that two weeks have passed), when I arrived I just sat down opposite Mr. Grumpy and got on with my work, and it all felt quite routine. I think I was finally starting to feel comfortable and relaxed and generally accepted there, and it was all starting to seem rather normal. Even the commute didn't seem quite as bad as it had done at first. Typical then, that this feeling only properly arrived on my final day.

At lunchtime, some of the staff from Elmwood went out to the local pub for a drink, as I believe is customary on a Friday afternoon. Feeling very courageous, I actually went with them, and I bought Alex a drink as a way of saying thank you for putting up with me for the last fortnight. Surely all the great work I produced for them for free is thanks enough, and should negate the need for a free pint as well. However, I believe it is the polite thing to do, and as my father would say, it might just increase my chances of being offered a job.

Now there's an interesting thought: being offered a job (which I wasn't, just for the record). Before I even began my work experience, literally everybody I spoke to said "ooh, if it goes well, maybe they'll offer you a job", or something to that effect. Now there's some pressure. I must have heard it so many times, I felt like if came away from my work experience with anything less than a guaranteed job offer, I would be failing in some way.

After all, I will be finishing university in May, and after that I actually need to do something with my life. Something other than being in education, which is what I've done, in one form or another, since the age of four. Some of my friends from back home have already secured jobs for themselves upon finishing university. One is going to become an investment banker, with a starting salary of £40,000 per year. Yes, I said starting. One is going to work for a big accountancy firm (or something like that) that I can't quite remember the name of. Another is going to be a primary school teacher. And then there's me, who is becoming increasingly confused about what he wants to do with his life.

If I'd have been offered a job by Elmwood on day one, I almost certainly would have taken it. If they offered me one now though, well, I'm not so sure. I did like it there in the end, and I think I could be happy working in that kind of environment once I'd made a few good friends there. However, it's not really what I want to do; a lot of the work that they produce seems to me to be very generic looking, safe, and generally a bit dull. In the entire time that I was there, I didn't once see any design work that made me think "wow, that's great". If I want a career in design, is this the kind of thing I have to sign up for? Right now, I'm so confused about what I want to do post-uni, the thought of a month or two doing nothing at all sounds most appealing.

Anyway, I haven't told you how Friday afternoon went. After the pub, which went surprisingly well, and didn't consistent of any awkward silences, it was back to the office for my final few hours of work. The time was spent tweaking my animation yet again, and trying to make it more 'blue' wherever I could, to fit in with the client's new colour scheme. By the end of the afternoon, version 14 of my animation was complete, and looked like the most suitable version yet. I showed it to Alex for the final time and he said it was great, and mentioned that he'd shown an earlier version of the animation to his design director, and that he thought it was great too. He even said that if the client liked it, then they would commission me to make a series of similar films for the website. However, I've got a feeling the client won't like it, as it doesn't quite look corporate enough for them. And that was it really, I shook hands with Alex, thanked him for the "experience", and left Elmwood for the final time.

So, as feared, I did leave without a job offer. Although, Alex did say that I was welcome to go back any time and do some more (un-paid!) work experience with them, so I can't have been too bad if they're willing to have me back. I suppose then, in theory, I did get a job offer, just not for a job that would earn me any money.

I know I keep going on about the money aspect, but in total, with all the petrol money (and the parking fine), my 'prize' for being the most memorable student on my course, ended up costing me about £200, plus two weeks of my time, which should have been dedicated to doing my dissertation and my independent project. Was the 'experience' worth it? Well… I can't decide.

Elmwood: Day Nine

So, the penultimate day. And a pretty good one again.

Not a lot to talk about today. Alex was in London all day to present some work to the client, and so I just got on with my work as best I could. I said yesterday that I think they're not quite sure what to do with me now, as I've pretty much completed the animation I was making, and there's no point giving me anything new to do. So, admittedly, a portion of my morning was spent procrastinating, reading blogs, even catching up on a little bit of uni work, and so on.

One of the highlights of my day was at 12:06pm, when Mr. Grumpy, sat on the desk opposite me, muttered something under his breath, stood up quite violently, and stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him. He clearly wasn't having a great day. Although he returned about 3 minutes later looking normal and calm again.

After lunch I had a bit of a breakthrough, and came up with a good way to link my animation with the potential new brand identity. So all afternoon was spent working on that, and 5pm seemed to come round rather quickly. It then took me about two and half hours to drive home, which means I had an average speed of about 17mph.

And that was it for day nine. Only one more to go!

Elmwood: Day Eight

Good day today. I'm starting to enjoy myself at Elmwood a lot more now.

Today was another day of tweaking my animation and trying to get it just right. I think one of the reasons I'm enjoying myself more is because I'm actually pleased with, and proud of, the work that I'm producing. Thank God for that. This morning I was working on Version 7 of the animation I'm making, and by lunchtime it was complete. When I showed it to Alex I got a really good response. He seemed to really like it, and said it was looking exactly how he had wanted it to. It's a bit of a departure from my usual style of animation, particularly as it deals with a serious issue rather than a lighthearted, whimsical one, but I'm really pleased with the results.

The only significant problem with my animation, is that it doesn't fit in with the client's new brand identity, which as of yet, is still being decided upon, from a choice of three different concepts. I mentioned this to Alex, who agreed, but said there's not a lot we can do about it until the identity has been finalised. Apparently he's having the same problems with his own work; he's going down to London tomorrow to present to the client and show them the work he's been doing on their new website, but without a clear identity to work with, he's said he's finding it difficult to come up with anything interesting or particularly relevant to do with the site.

It really surprised me that they're working like this. Surely you have to come up with the new brand identity first, and then create the website and other promotional materials to fit in with and support the new identity? Alex said that normally that would be the case, but this project is a bit of an exception, as they've got very little time available. Apparently this would normally be a six month job, but instead they've only got two months to do it.

I get the impression that they don't quite know what to do with me now that I've finished the animation. There's not much point in giving me a new project to start working on, because I'm only there for another three days (or two and a half actually, as I need to go into uni again on Friday morning). There are still some things I'd like to tweak on the animation, so I can get with that, and Alex suggested that I try exploring ways of making my animation work with the new identity, or at least what we know about the new identity so far. As I've already mentioned, they're still throwing around three different concepts at the moment, but there are certain things I can work with, like the fact that the colour for the new brand will definitely be blue for example (blue, that's original). And also, there's one identity which the guys from Elmwood in London seem to be favouring more than the other two (although whether the client will is a different story), so I can try and take some of the visual elements from that and attempt to work them into my animation. The guys at the London office have even come up with an animation of their own, to demonstrate to the client how this identity could be implemented, and I can safely say that it's one of the worst things I have ever seen. Now, I should mention, that the animation wasn't actually created by Elmwood London, instead they commissioned a specialist animation/illustration agency to produce it, so I don't know who's actually to blame for the terrible end result. I can't figure out if it's a terrible concept that's been well executed, or a strong concept that's been poorly executed. Either way, it's not the kind of thing I would expect a company such as Elmwood to present to a big client. Perhaps if they cut the first half, and used only the last half of the animation, it would be alright, but as it is, I personally would be embarrassed to show it to a client.

Anyway, I suppose I've criticised it enough now. I'd absolutely love to put a copy of it on here to prove just how atrocious it is, but I'm not allowed to of course.

God, I hope no one from Elmwood stumbles across this blog.

So, yes, my afternoon was spent trying to make my animation tie in a bit more with the potential brand identity, and by the end of the day I thought I'd done quite a good job actually. I showed it to Alex before I left, and he seemed to think so too, so that's all good. Christ knows what I'm going to do tomorrow though. Try and make my animation more 'blue' I guess.


P.S. I almost forgot to maintain my tradition of complaining about the commute. It took me two and a half hours to get home today! Bloody horrendous!

Elmwood: Day Seven

So, day number seven. Today was "one of those days", where nothing seems to go according to plan. Everything I did before work went completely wrong, and as soon as I left work, everything started going completely wrong again, but remarkably, everything at work went fairly well.

I arrived at Elmwood about 10 minutes late this morning, which wasn't quite as bad as I had expected, as I had left the house about 25 minutes late. When I arrived I sat down opposite Mr. Grumpy again (who wasn't quite as grumpy with everyone else today, but still wouldn't say a word to me), and just got on with my work. And there's not a huge amount else I can talk about, as that's pretty much what I did all day: just got on with my work. I've been making alterations to my animation, tweaking the timings, finding appropriate pictures for the background (which I'm now liking), and correcting other slight imperfections and so on, and I'm actually feeling quite pleased with how it's all coming together.

I'm also starting to feel a bit more comfortable at Elmwood now; the people aren't as scary or daunting as they seemed at first, and one or two more people are acknowledging the fact that I actually exist. Typical, that I start to feel properly at ease there when I've only got a few days left. I suppose that's another of the big problems with work experience; unless it's a long term work placement, for a period of several months say, there's never enough time to really get to know anyone, or to fit properly into your surroundings.

I left work just after 5pm, and it was then that it started feeling like "one of those days" again. I won't go into detail about all the little things which went wrong, but to give you some idea of how 'not quite with it' I was, I discovered that I'd spent a significant portion of my day with two pairs of boxers under my jeans, rather than the more customary one. Worrying. Perhaps all this work is affecting my ability to get dressed properly.

Elmwood: Day Six

Jesus Christ. That weekend disappeared quickly.

Monday did not get off to a good start. I woke up at half past five, did some work and jumped in the car at 7am. Only to find a funny looking thing stuck to my windscreen. Oh fantastic, a parking ticket! A parking ticket that was issued at 06:17 this morning. What kind of nocturnal parking attendant goes round at that time in the morning? The frustrating thing is, I was told when I moved into my apartment that I was allowed to use the car back at the back, as long as I didn't park there during office hours, which last I checked were usually 9-5. Even if the staff in the offices underneath our building work longer than 9-5 hours, my car is always gone by 7am, and doesn't return until about 7pm, and I'm almost always the only car there, so it's not like I'm taking up valuable parking spaces! Anyway, rant over. I'll have to ask my landlord about it, as it was them who told me I could park there.

So, feeling somewhat disgruntled, I made my way up the glorious M1 from junction 34 to junction 43. I'm so fed up of commuting now that it's gotten to that stage where I'm trying anything I can to make my journey more interesting. According to Wikipedia, there are seven 'notable sights' visible from the M1 on my way to work, so I thought I'd see how many of them I could spot:

  • Meadhowhall shopping centre - Yep, spotted that one, hard to miss really.

  • Former site of the Blackburn Meadows Power Station - Not too excited by that one personally, but I have indeed spotted it on my way out of Sheffield.

  • Wentworth Castle - Not found that one yet, will definitely be looking out for it tomorrow though.

  • Barnsley Town Hall - If the rest of Barnsley's architecture is anything to go by, they're really scrapping the bottom of the landmark barrel with that one.

  • Emley Moor mast - Yep, it's a big mast.

  • Ferrybridge Power Station - Can't say I've noticed that one, but then it's only visible Southbound apparently.

  • Bridgewater Place - Leeds tallest building, also known as 'The Dalek', definitely spotted that one.

  • So, I've spotted four out of the seven potentially 'interesting' sights on my way to work. I feel quite proud of myself. Anyway, enough of that. This is supposed to be a blog about my experiences at a big design company, not about how I keep myself amused on the M1.

    Today was ok at Elmwood. When I arrived I found that Alex wasn't in, and wouldn't be until lunchtime, so I'd have to wait to show him my animation. In the mean time I thought I'd have to keep myself busy by getting on with some work. However, I wasn't entirely sure what to do, so I tried to just use my initiative as much as possible, and keep developing the animation in the direction I thought was best. I was sat at my usual desk in the corner, where I've been since day three, and all was going well, until someone came up to me and said "Hello, I think I'm sharing your desk today". Well, that came as a surprise. Turns out the guy talking to me was a freelance designer / art director who has been brought in to help Elmwood with the packaging for a BIG client that I'm obviously not allowed to name. Even though I'd been there first, I felt a bit awkward, like I'd stolen his space. Apparently the desk I'd been using was the desk typically reserved for freelancers to work at. So, we did indeed share the desk for a while, which was a bit weird, but he seemed like a nice guy and actually made conversation with me. However, there were only two plug sockets available at the desk, and he needed both of them to power his machine, so when my MacBook ran out of battery, I had to find somewhere else to sit.

    Time for musical chairs again.

    In the end I was positioned opposite Mr. Grumpy, in the grumpy corner of the office. That's not his real name of course, that would be unfortunate, he just looked thoroughly miserable. He definitely didn't take the least bit of interest in me. Didn't even look up when I came to sit on the desk opposite him, and didn't speak a word to me the entire time I was there. Wow, what a way to make me feel welcome. However, I soon discovered that it wasn't just me who got this treatment. Almost everyone who came and talked to him (although I should say, "came to ask him something", as no one really came over just to talk to him and have a nice chat), got the grumpy treatment. Lots of one word answers and other non-pleasantries. One woman who works there even had the coat stand fall on her, right next to his desk, but despite making a joke about it, he still didn't grant her a response. Needless to say, it wasn't exactly a conversation filled afternoon. (Disclaimer: Maybe I'm being overly critical of this guy. I suppose he could have just been having a really bad day. We all get those sometimes. If I'm sat opposite him again tomorrow I'll be able to tell whether it was a one off or whether he's stuck in permanent grumpy mode).

    When Alex got in, I showed him the work I'd done so far, including the 1st draft of the animation that I'd thrown together on Friday. And, hurrah! He liked it! He said the animation was coming together nicely, and had some constructive criticism about some of the timings, saying it needed to be a bit faster, (but I was going to tweak that anyway). I also asked him about my concerns that the animation I'm making doesn't fit in with the new brand identity, for the primary reason that the new identity hasn't been decided on yet. However, Alex gave me a slightly reassuring answer, and made me feel a bit better about the whole thing. He basically pointed out that the work I'm doing is as much about creating a great concept as it is about a great execution, and so even if the typography or the style of illustration needs to be altered to fit in with the brand identity, it's not a major problem because they'll still be able to use the same concept, and the same narrative techniques that I've come up with.

    This afternoon was spent working on the animation, and not talking to Mr. Grumpy in front of me. I tried experimenting again with putting photographs in the background, and it turns out I'm actually liking the look of it a lot more today. And that was pretty much it. The afternoon went really quickly, and before I knew it, it was time to pop back down the M1 past all those exciting landmarks again.

    Elmwood: Day Five

    Friday today. That means I've survived my first week at Elmwood, and that I'm exactly half way through my work placement there.

    Today was a good day; for starters the traffic wasn't as bad as it usually is, and I actually got to work for half past eight, and, on Friday mornings, the staff at Elmwood watch a "TED Talk" rather than getting straight on with work. For anyone outside the design community, a TED Talk might sound a bit odd. I know when I first heard of it I thought of giant teddy bears giving lectures. In reality, it is a series of lectures, but given by inspirational speakers from the design world, not the stuffed toy world (although to be honest, I still have no idea what 'TED' actually stands for). This morning's talk was given by possibly the most famous product designer in the world: the fascinatingly irritating, pompous, French lunatic that is Philippe Starck. I've blogged about Starck before when he had his own Apprentice-with-a-design-twist-esque reality TV show, and in the talk we watched this morning he was on top form, starting with the evolution of man, and eventually linking it to why he designs toilet brushes. I believe that he was trying to make a point about how important it is to consider the end user and how they will interact with the product, but he certainly went about it in his own very unique way.

    I really like the idea of getting all the staff together every Friday morning to watch these talks. It's something a bit different, a nice break at the end of the week, and it gets everyone discussing it around the table afterwards. Apparently they usually have bacon sandwiches whilst watching too, but that didn't happen today for some reason. Very disappointing.

    After the TED Talk, it was time to get on with some work again. This morning I got to see some of the development work that's been done on the logo, for the mystery client that I'm not allowed to mention. I think it's the guys at Elmwood in London who've been working on the identity, and they've narrowed it down to three possible ideas. All of which are pretty much exactly how I thought they would be - very corporate, slick, and still quite cold and faceless looking. However, having said that, I do really like two out of the three designs they've come up with, and I can definitely see them being used by the client.

    The big problem however, is that the ideas that I've been working on for my animation now look a bit odd in comparison to the new identity that Elmwood are developing for the client. In my opinion, the animation ought to be in a similar style to the logo and the whole new identity, to give the brand some visual consistency, and so that the two are recognisable as different parts of the same whole. So why am I making an animation for a brand which hasn't even been decided on yet? In the real world, Elmwood would finish the logo and identity work first, and only then surely, would they start work on designing the new website, the animated content, and whatever else that goes with it. I'm guessing it's only because I'm in on work experience that they've even started considering the animation yet.

    Well, I'd already drawn out all the different elements to my (very twee looking, hand rendered) animation, so I thought I might as well scan them and put the animation together just to show what it would look like. I didn't have a lot else I could do, and I thought it would be a shame not to actually make the animation now that I'd drawn everything I needed for it. Also, I thought that if I had a proper animation to show, I could then make a stronger argument about the fact that it doesn't work with the new identity.

    So, I was shown how to use the scanner (it's very impressive actually, it scans up to A2 size paper, the scans only take about two seconds, and then it emails the scanned images straight to your inbox), and then spent the rest of the day putting my animation together in AfterEffects. By 5pm it was complete, and looking quite good in my opinion. I was eager to show Alex and get his thoughts on it, but for once Alex had left work on time (he usually stays quite late), and so I won't be able to get his opinion until Monday morning.

    At the end of the day, Abi came over and started talking to me. Thank God! It was nice to have someone come over and take an interest in what I was doing. She graduated from the graphics course at Leeds two or three years ago, and it was her and Ben from Elmwood that I had to present my work to in order to win this work experience in the first place. She was really nice actually; she asked me how I was getting on and if I was enjoying it and so on, and I showed her the animation that I'd thrown together, and explained my concerns about it not fitting with the new brand identity. She even invited me to the pub later this evening, but unfortunately I had to decline the offer, as it takes me two hours to get home and I have a ridiculous amount of university work to catch up on. I can just imagine what my father would be saying at this point: "You must go for a drink with them, it's essential". Well, I'm sure it would have been a good opportunity, but seriously, I do not have the time!

    I ended up staying until about 6pm talking to Abi and doing some extra bits of work, making sure I'm all prepared to show Alex my progress on Monday morning. As well as the animation, I've also made some examples in Photoshop of what the illustrations look like when layered over photographs, as that was an idea that he seemed to like a lot. I remember saying the other day that I thought it could either look great, or it could look horrendous, and having played around with it a bit, I now see it's swinging slightly towards the horrendous side unfortunately.

    For some reason, Friday's seem so much more special when you've been working a 9-5 job all week. Despite the fact that I've got nothing but more work to do when I get home, the thought of the weekend was still quite an exciting one. And today, the drive home only took me an hour, which was pretty awesome.

    Elmwood: Day Four

    Only a half day at Elmwood today, as I had to drop in to uni this morning for the first tutorial of my final semester, where I was supposed to show my tutor all the work I'd done over Christmas. Unsurprisingly, I hadn't really done any work over Christmas, but I managed to successfully blag my way through the session.

    Anyway, after leaving uni early, I had to make my way to Elmwood, which was a bit trickier than usual, as I know how to get there from the M1, but not from the centre of the city. After a short detour, I arrived at Elmwood and got straight on with work, drawing up yet another storyboard. I've now drawn up a ridiculous number of storyboards over the last few days, and I felt that this latest one was the best yet. However, I haven't shown it to Alex, so we'll wait and see.

    The animation that I'm making needs to work without any sound, which means no voiceover like usual, so I needed to find another way to tell the story. As a result, my proposed animation combines typography (hand rendered, of course) and simple illustrations to tell the story, and the idea is to place the type and line drawings over photographs in the background, similar to this image by Kyle Pierce. I'm still in two minds at the moment, I think overlaying photographs with my line drawings could either look great, or it could look absolutely horrendous. We'll just have to wait and see.

    After completing my 152nd storyboard of the week, I decided to start properly drawing out some of the individual elements for the animation, which I would then scan in and tinker with on the computer. I drew a couple of pieces, and experimented with different styles of hand drawn typography and whatnot, and then I was ready to scan them in. However, I still didn't know how to use the scanner, and everyone looked very busy, so instead of asking someone to show me, I decided I'd pass the time by drawing a couple more items. And then a couple more. And then just another few. By the end of the afternoon I'd gotten a little bit carried away, and had drawn out every single part of the animation, except for one. Before I knew it, it was about 6pm and the majority of the staff had gone home, so I decided I'd do the same.