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.

Elmwood: Day Three

Definitely did not want to get out of bed this morning. The thought of driving for two hours just to sit at a desk all day was not appealing. I couldn't help thinking that if I stayed in Sheffield and worked at my own desk, I'd get a lot more work done, and maybe I could just email it to Elmwood? However, that would just be the 'work' without the 'experience', so it would defeat the whole point of the exercise really. So, reluctantly I got out of bed, and after a shower and some breakfast, I got in the car and set off on another exciting journey up the M1.

When I arrived at Elmwood, things got a bit better. I was moved to a new desk when I arrived today, as the people whose desks I had been using actually needed them today. So, I was sat in a different place, and surrounded by a slightly different set of people, (only one of whom actually made conversation with me, but it was a good conversation, so it helped me feel a bit more comfortable in my new corner of the office).

For most of the morning I worked on drawing up a proper, well illustrated (rather than roughly scribbled) storyboard for the animation that they've got me working on, and by lunchtime it was finished and I was semi-proud of it. However, I couldn't really go any further without Alex's feedback/approval, and Alex was busy, so whilst I waited for him I spent a good half hour procrastinating by reading blogs and writing this one.

That seems to be the biggest problem with work experience; you're constantly reporting back to whoever's overseeing you, and to get anywhere really you need to keep nagging them every five minutes. I certainly don't want to be the annoying, nagging, work experience boy, so I've been fighting the urge to say "I've done what you asked me to do, what would you like me to do next?", which surely must be one of the most annoying questions utterable. Now, you might be thinking at this point that I could perhaps use my initiative, and impress them by just getting on with it without having to ask. Perhaps I should just start making the animation? Well, it's a lovely idea, but we haven't got any of the images from the client yet, and I don't have access to a scanner or printer here (they do have scanners and printers of course, but they're not set up to work with my computer, so yet again I'd need to ask someone to help), so that makes it a tad more difficult. If I actually worked here, and had four or five projects on the go, whilst waiting on one, I could be getting on with one of the others, but as I'm only working on one small part of one project, there's only so much I can do before I hit a dead end and have to ask for my next set of instructions. It's frustrating.

This afternoon, I did eventually show my storyboard to Alex, and the feedback seems to be getting better each time, so it looks like I'm going in the right direction. He made a couple of suggestions, and the rest of the afternoon was spent ironing out some small problems with the design.

And that was it for day three.

Elmwood: Day Two

So, two days down at Elmwood. How's it going? Well, the second day wasn't as interesting as the first to be honest, although at least I turned up on time (I left about 7am and got there just before 9am - I have a feeling I might be sick of commuting by the end of the two weeks).

Today I've been working on storyboards for my animation, but haven't quite come up with one that I'm happy with yet. The big problem is that the animation I'm working on tells a story about a very serious issue, and not one which can be joked about or taken too lightheartedly, so I'm having to try and adopt a very different tone of voice for this piece of work compared to all my previous animations. To make matters worse, the client wants to seem less "faceless" and "cold", and instead more "warm" and "personal" (which is a good decision if you ask me), but trying to seem personal and friendly whilst also trying to talk about a very serious issue is a bit of a challenge. So this is what it's like to work for a real client!

This morning I got my first taste of Jean the housekeeper's excellent home cooking. Midmorning there was an announcement which rang through the building: "Jean's cakes are now ready in the cafe", and suddenly everyone stood up from their desks, seemingly regardless of what they were doing, and gravitated towards the sponged-based baked goodness. And then at lunchtime, the same thing happened, but with pies instead of cakes! Jean had made individual pies for everyone, complete with mushy peas and/or baked beans. I'm not sure exactly why she does it, maybe she just really, really, likes Elmwood or something, but it certainly tasted good, and was very much appreciated. At lunch I was struck by that terrible "oh dear, I'm sat in a room full of people I don't know, but they all know each other" kind of moment, which made me feel very nervous and shy, and although I tried awkwardly to make conversation with a few of them, to be honest I didn't get very far.

After lunch, everyone at Elmwood had a big meeting, which I was allowed to sit in on and observe, although I'm certainly not allowed to discuss any of the details of it. What amazed me about it though was I realised just how many different projects Elmwood have going on at one time (I think I'm allowed to say that, I'm not giving away the names of any of the clients, merely saying that there's lots of them).

By the very end of the day I was finally feeling a bit happier with the work I was producing, as I had a decent chat with Alex, and he helped give me a bit more confidence. I'm thinking about using my typical hand drawn illustration style, but over the top of photographs or moving images, which is something I've never tried before. Could be interesting, or it might turn out to be rubbish, either way I'll no doubt ramble on about it on here.

Elmwood: Day One

So, today, I finally started my work experience with Elmwood! Despite leaving two hours in advance, I still ended up six minutes late unfortunately, as there was a traffic jam of the most ridiculous proportions on the M1 just before hitting Leeds. I guess that's just the normal rush hour traffic though, so I'll need to be even more prepared for that tomorrow, and I'll try leaving even earlier! Obviously turning up late doesn't make a great first impression, but thankfully the guys at Elmwood were completely cool about it.

When I eventually did turn up, Alex Nelson came to greet me. He's Head of Digital, and the one who I'll be reporting to for the next fortnight. First of all he gave me a guided tour of the building, which I'm pleased to say is unbelievably nicer on the inside than the outside. And it feels a lot bigger on the inside than it looks outside too; the workforce is split across two floors, and there's a lot more of them than I expected. I'm not sure why, but I expected Elmwood to have around 15-20 staff, but it turns out they've probably got 40 plus. I was introduced to a lot of them, but I can count the names I actually remember on just one hand. Along with the guided tour, they were very quick to get me to sign a 'Confidentiality Agreement', which will sadly restrict the amount of interesting information I can put on this blog, as I'm not allowed to talk about any work in progress or clients and so on. However unlikely it is that the competition read my blog, Elmwood clearly don't want to take any chances. It was also made clear that whatever work I produce whilst I'm there, is officially theirs, although I might be able to include it in my portfolio if I get their permission first.

Anyway, after the formalities of scrawling my signature on the Confidentiality Agreement, Alex showed me where to get beverages (very important), and pens (also important), and then briefed me on the work I'll be doing. Now, I had hoped to talk about the work I'll be doing at Elmwood, but as I signed that confidentially agreement, I'll have to treat this as an exercise in vagueness. Basically, the client is a big global corporation, and they've given Elmwood the task of rebranding and updating their identity, however, that's not what I'm working on, that's being done by Elmwood in London. As head of digital, Alex has the task of redesigning their corporate website to fit in with the new identity, and that's where I come in. They want some animations or illustrations to be featured on the website, to help explain a bit about what the company do, and as it was my animation work which got me this work experience in the first place, Alex thought this would be the ideal job for me. And he would be right! Last time I did work experience I spent a week working on a logo, and it got quite dull to be honest, so I was glad to be plonked straight on to a motion graphics job. And very glad that they threw me straight into a live brief, rather than have me making cups of tea, sorting paperwork, or something equally mundane.

After briefing me, it was time for a video conference with the guys in London who've been working on the logo. However, someone else had booked the video conferencing facilities, and so it suddenly became a telephone conference instead. During the three way telephone conference, they basically talked through all their initial ideas for the logo development, and we were able to look at them as they'd sent over a pdf with all their examples in. Some of them looked questionable to be honest, but there were also some really good identity ideas amongst them too, and it helped give me a good idea of where they were going with the project, and got me thinking about what my animation could look like to fit in with the identity they're developing.

After lunch I got to work researching this mysterious client that I'm not allowed to mention, and started scribbling some initial ideas. By the end of the afternoon I had about one and a half basic storyboards to show Alex, although his response suggested that my ideas were 'ok' but not 'great' (yet). Hopefully they'll look a bit more impressive tomorrow if I can mock up some visuals.

And that was pretty much how my first day went. Elmwood seemed to have a very relaxed atmosphere, with music playing at all times, and decent music at that! They have a policy where they just put Spotify on, and anyone/everyone can choose what they want to listen to, so that everybody gets a chance to listen to something they like. They also have a library, full of design books and all sorts of other things, including a table football table, which I thought was a great idea. So overall it seems like a really nice place to work. The staff sitting on the desks opposite and surrounding mine were all quite friendly, and didn't just ignore me, which was nice of them. I even had several people saying that they were impressed with my animation which felt great. Little did I know, Alex had posted my animation on his blog, and it had garnered a little bit of attention online, with one girl even commenting: "I want to have his babies". Needless to say, she won't be getting my babies, but it was nice to get the praise anyway.

The Road To Elmwood

Tomorrow I begin my work experience with Elmwood, one of the best (statistically perhaps the best) branding and communication agencies in the UK. I've brought my car 'up north' from my humble hometown of Lichfield, where it normally resides, and I'll be commuting from my house in Sheffield to the Elmwood office in Leeds every day for the next two weeks.

Following my mother's advice, I did a 'trial run' to Elmwood in the car this afternoon (with the girlfriend navigating), just to familiarise myself with the route, and to ensure I don't end up horrendously lost and turn up embarrassingly late on my first day. The journey to Elmwood took about an hour, although that was on a Sunday afternoon and the traffic was minimal, so I think I'll have to leave at least two hours in advance when I'm doing it in rush hour traffic. Elmwood's Leeds office doesn't actually seem to be in Leeds, rather it's in the small town of Guisley, just up a bit and to the left of Leeds, and once we got to Guisley it took us a while to figure out where abouts their office was hidden. Eventually it turned up down a little side lane, and we pulled up in the carpark and had a quick gander at the building. To be honest, it's a bit ugly on the outside. From what I can tell it's made almost entirely from concrete, and the main building looks a bit depressing, however, the entrance to the building did look quite nice as it had lots of greenery growing around it, and we peered through the windows, and what I could see of the inside looked a lot nicer.

Before I begin tomorrow, I thought I would recap how I got given the work experience in the first place. At university we were given a brief, sponsored by Elmwood, entitled "Remember my name". The objective of the brief was exactly that, I had to try and get the folks over at Elmwood to remember my name, the only difficulty being that there were 80-odd other students on my course also trying to get Elmwood to remember their names. It was an exercise in branding, but not for a typical client, I had to brand and advertise myself. Now I like to think that I know myself fairly well, having lived with myself for the past 21 years, four months and three days. However, it's inevitable that my own perception of myself will be slightly different from everyone else's perception of me. I might think I'm great, but I know there are numerous people that might think I'm a complete twat. Whether I'm a twat or not, I am who I am and it's unlikely to change, so all I wanted to do was to try and get my personality across to Elmwood, and hope to God that they like it. Anyway, I won't bore you by rambling on any further with the details of the project, instead I'll just show the end result. For the final presentation to Elmwood, I made an animation, which looked a bit like this:

Remember My Name from Matthew Young on Vimeo.

And amazingly, they liked it! According to the feedback I got, it "blew their socks off", which I assume is a good thing, although personally I prefer it when my socks stay on. I found out a few days after the presentation that I had been selected as one of three people to be awarded a two week work placement with Elmwood. Good times!

Then, last week, the week before I was due to commence my work experience, I realised there were a few things I ought to know before I turn up on Monday morning. I had questions like "what should I wear?" and I was really worried about "should I bring a packed lunch?" for some reason. Some of my concerns were more relevant than others. I was going to email Elmwood and ask them, but I wanted to send them something more exciting than a plain text email; they must receive loads of boring emails every day, and I wanted mine to stand out a little bit, to make an impression and perhaps get them talking about me again before I come in.

So, I picked out the most relevant questions, and made another short animation, in the same style as the one which grabbed their attention in the first place. It took about a day to make, whereas writing an email would have taken a few minutes, so I was just creating unnecessary work for myself really, but it was a lot more satisfying than sending an email. This, is what the finished thing looked like:

Questions for Elmwood from Matthew Young on Vimeo.

I was a bit worried that perhaps it would be overkill on the twee animation front, but thankfully I got a really good response from Alex Nelson, who's head of digital at Elmwood, and seemingly the one who'll be dealing with me for the next two weeks:

Dear Matthew,

Thanks for the non-email, lovely stuff.

In answer to your questions:

We don't have a dress code per se, however most of our placements seem to have a self initiated uniform of ultraskinny jeans and big hair. I don't think trouser tightness affects tea-making ability, so it's unlikely anyone here will mind either way.

I'd like to say that all you need to bring is your imagination, but that would be a lie. Please also bring your Mac and a memory stick. Oh, and your portfolio too. We have a WHSmiths-esque variety of pens and papers, so no need to worry there.

We'll do some proper briefing with you when you start, so don't worry about researching anything first. Apart from perhaps some scone-based compliments now that our housekeeper Jean is back. Perhaps some belly-stretching exercises too, as she likes you to have seconds.

See you next week,


The friendly, slightly humorous and down to earth tone of voice definitely put me at ease, and I think I like this Alex already, despite never having met him. However, that could all change tomorrow of course.

Long Time No See

Spread the word, send forth the messengers! The MY MY MY Blog has been resurrected! Dormant since October, it will now be active and pumping out molten opinionated-ish lava for at least the next two weeks.

Resurrection metaphors? Volcano metaphors? That's enough of that. So, what made me want to re-enter the oh so exciting world of blogging?

I'd been meaning to start a blog for about the last four years, and it wasn't until this summer that I was eventually forced to do it as part of a university brief. And despite it being ridiculously time consuming (I would often spend my whole day writing, re-writing, tweaking and re-tweaking an article), it was hugely enjoyable. I used to write all the time when I was at school, but since coming to university I'd very much gotten out of the habit of doing so. Blogging throughout the summer, I found it really enjoyable to write on a regular basis again, and it was exciting to share my opinions on design with the rest of the internet world, and from what I can tell, I built up a regular audience of about four or five people. Impressive, I know.

However, since returning to university at the beginning of October, I've barely had time to get all my uni work done, let alone maintain a blog as well. And nothing has changed; uni will officially start again next week, and I've still got the bulk of my dissertation to write, and the whole of my independent project to complete, never mind my half completed D&AD submission and the birthday present which I'm spending far too many hours hand crafting for my best friend's 21st birthday. Oh, and trying to get a job too. So I still don't have time to maintain a blog, but I'm going to do so anyway, at least for the next two weeks (maybe I'll have to cut out a non-essential part of my day, like showering perhaps). Why? Because for the next two weeks, I'm going to be doing my work experience with Elmwood, and I wanted to keep a record of my experiences there. So the blog will be a bit different to how it was before; instead of rambling on about good design, bad design and anything interesting in between, for the next fortnight the blog will essentially become a diary, a personal account of my time spent at Elmwood. I've somehow convinced myself that writing about it will be a worthwhile exercise, although I'm still not entirely sure why. If nothing else, it will probably serve as a very entertaining diary for me to look back on in five or ten years time when I'm a successful designer, and I can have a great laugh about how pathetic I must have been as the little work experience boy.