As a freelance photographer, Shillington London graduate Annie Oswald wanted to add another string to her creative bow—and she quickly realised that was graphic design. A few years after discovering Shillington, she enrolled on the full-time course. After graduating, she started her job search and after a few months found herself working for every kids’ dream company—American ice cream mavericks Ben & Jerry’s. Our graduate has been with the company since and was recently promoted to Global Creative Manager which saw her up sticks and move to Ben and Jerry’s HQ in Vermont.
We caught up with Annie to chat about being a Shillington graduate, her whirlwind journey with Ben & Jerry’s, the joys of working in-house for a company and how she combines her photography and design.
Why did you make the decision to study at Shillington? Did you have any previous design experience?
Not really. I’d seen all the signs for Shillington a few years before enrolling, remembered thinking it looked really quality but then kind of parked it in the back of my brain while my freelancing and creative interests evolved. I wanted to be able to create more. As a photographer I loved the craft, but alone it wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be able to make posters, design webpages, play with letters and, if necessary, turn embarrassing photos of my friends into t-shirts.
I guess I wanted to see how far my creative muscle could flex. Eventually it just became clear that graphic design was the next skill I needed to unlock for myself.
Given that I had been self-taught in photography, I really wanted to learn design in a structured setting.
Straight after graduation you got a job as a Creative Designer at Ben & Jerry’s—how did you land yourself the job?
It wasn’t totally immediate—there were definitely a couple of pyjama-bottomed months and hundreds of sent resumes, unanswered emails and the highlights of
each week being trips to the M&S garage for more biscuits. But then one day I got a response. I’d taken the advice of my Shillington teachers to contact as many people as possible in the industry and get out there with my portfolio, even if there was no job guaranteed. I emailed tons of agencies and creative people in London just asking to meet and chat. Most didn’t reply, some did but nothing came of it and the one who did reply let me come and talk through my portfolio.
There was no job available with him, but about a week later he emailed me about an open position with Ben & Jerry’s, one of his clients. He put me in touch with them and vouched for me and my portfolio, I entered the application process and I got the job.
So, I guess the summary here is: Put yourself and your work in front of people. You never know where it leads.
Oh, and also, speak through your portfolio passionately. You’re presenting your work but you’re also presenting yourself. Energy and humble confidence (even if you need to fake it) is everything.
After two years as Ben & Jerry’s Creative Designer you got promoted to Creative Manager and then, earlier this year, you got promoted again to Global Creative Manager and moved to Vermont to work at HQ. Wow! How was the move? And what’s it like living and working in Vermont?
The move coincided with the pandemic—so it’s been a strange start to say the least! I can say, however, that it is very beautiful and mountainous here, the local cheese is pleasantly sharp and bitey, good beer seems to flow from the faucets and, while it has been an extremely long time since I’ve lived in my home country, it feels pretty good.
Can you tell us about what you get up to at Ben & Jerry’s? We’d love to see some of your work!
Every day is different. One morning I might be designing an Instagram story and in the afternoon I’m concepting with the team for monthly social content or art directing a photoshoot for a new flavour launch or writing copy for the back of the packaging or managing an agency partner in the creation of videos for one of our social mission campaigns. Am considering covertly slipping ‘taste-testing’ into my job description one of these days.
And now the question that’s on everyone’s minds: do you get free ice cream?
Yes! Which is both awesome and quite perilous.
How was your workload changed turning from a Creative Designer into a Creative Manager? What are the major differences between the roles?
I still do a lot of hands-on design in my role, but also manage a range of creative projects and agency partners as well.
Managing workloads does mean having to offload or reassign certain creative tasks that I may have done previously, but I am still very much a designer in the day to day.
It will be a cold day in hell before I ever let myself forget the Adobe keyboard shortcuts!
Can you give tips to for a graduate who is working in-house? Or any tips from working your way up as a graduate in an in-house design team?
The more creative disciplines you can bring to the job, the better. In my opinion.
In-house roles can be just as busy, dynamic and quick-moving environments as the agency world, and if you can design as well as write copy, take photographs, etc—and essentially become your own little agency within yourself—it’s highly advantageous.
I don’t believe in the ‘jack of all trades makes you master of none’ thing. If you have skills in several creative areas, you don’t just have to pick one and go with that. Use it all. You’ll become an indispensable asset to the team if you do. Not to mention, positivity and a willingness to jump in and do the things that need to be done with a smile on your face—these things go reeeal far.
You’re also a photographer. Do you enjoy being able to work on both your passions?
For sure. I need variety so the more creative outlets for me, the better. And I think the background in photography has helped a lot in the art direction side of my job.
Are there any ways in which your photography inspires your design? Or vice versa?
I’ll say yes to this question. I’ll also say I’m not entirely sure how. I think it’s in ways I’m not conscious of. When you’ve got a photographic eye you’re always viewing everything from a certain compositional standpoint, whether behind a lens or in front of a screen designing graphics, so I’m sure they’re both influencing each other all the time in ways I can’t really articulate. I think it’s probably some frontal lobe-colour theory stuff.
Were there any projects from your Shillington graduate portfolio you were particularly proud of? Can you remember your favourite?
I had a lot of fun with all of them, but I loved my handmade project. I’m a book nerd/hoarder so my favourite books are my most prized possessions. Taking those beloved stories and turning them into pieces of my own art was very satisfying. I also had a lot of fun with my image rebrand brief, where I chose to rebrand the image of pigeons. As a lifelong enthusiast of the bird, never (sometimes) believing they were merely rats with wings, I attempted (and failed) to put them back in favour with the general public using a combination of, well, basically just the colour grey and a healthy sprinkling of sarcasm. It was kind of random, but I think the tone and style it ended up in was actually quite close to the spirit of what Ben & Jerry’s is like. Who knows, maybe its presence in my portfolio helped land me the interview.
Did you make any meaningful connections with teachers or fellow students during the course? Have you encountered any fellow Shillumni out in the world?
Oh yeah. I made great friends with a handful of my fellow course mates and became close with my teachers.
It’s a very intense and challenging few months you spend with these people; excellent breeding ground for new friendships and increased pub visits.
As a graduate, if you could give one piece of advice to someone starting at Shillington, what would it be?
Okay, this is more like five pieces:
Be a sponge. Keep a positive attitude. Stretch yourself. Don’t get in your own way.
Make friends. It’s infinitely more rewarding connecting with the people who are on this journey with you than remaining an island. Plus, ideas multiply when shared. Or is that joy? You get the point.
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