Alex Jarvis, user experience designer
Alex works at design consultancy and product design company BERG. His work mixes product and graphic design with user experience work.
Dartford, in Kent. I now live in London.
What job do you do?
At BERG, we offer a design consultancy service. This means we work on projects with other companies who have come to us for help. This is sometimes secret work, but sometimes we talk about the work or release the products we've been working on.
BERG Cloud, meanwhile, is the part of the company where we design and sell products we've invented ourselves, under our own brand name. One of our most well-known products is the Little Printer, an internet-connected thermal printer.
How did you get started in design?
I went to a school that didn't really understand art and design, or want to send people into it.
In the sixth form, I decided to go to art college anyway and do a foundation degree. It was a bit of a shot in the dark – I'd never been given any indication at school of what studying design could lead to, and I had very limited knowledge of the design world.
"It's about understanding the way things work – how people control and interact with a product."
I did my foundation course at Ravensbourne College. Foundation courses are pretty useful, because you do all sorts of things, and at the end you've got a good overview of lots of different ways to create things.
In my third year I had a new tutor who introduced me to approaches to design I never knew existed. He's now my boss at Berg! I realised that the experimental thought processes that go into design are just as important as the physical work.
A lot of art colleges teach you how to make things look nice. I learned more about the thinking behind design, and the way things can be put together.
When I got to the end of the course, I freelanced for a bit. It was all mainly graphic design work. I did some branding work for Tie Rack, and my college helped set me up with some other freelance projects.
Then I got a job at MOO, who produce business cards and stationery. I worked there for nearly two years doing web and graphic design, but also exhibition design, product design, internal branding – anything they threw at me.
After MOO, I worked at Nokia, doing user interface design – designing the technology that enables people to use Nokia phones.
Finally, I landed the job at BERG.
What qualifications do you have?
I did the International Baccalaureate, which is an equivalent to A levels. It wasn't very design focused. My school didn't allow me to do Art and Graphic Design together, and at the time I'd chosen art.
I did Art and Design GCSE, then the Baccalaureate, and then went to art school. I did a BTEC Foundation in Art & Design, then a BA in Graphic Design.
What do you do at work?
Although I don't directly do much design on the products we sell, I oversee all of the visual and design work at BERG Cloud.
I'm responsible for the website, any kind of visuals our customers see, and the way that our customers experience our products, from opening the box to using them for the first time.
It's about understanding the way things work – how do people control and interact with our products? I make sure the customer's experience of getting our products, from purchasing to unboxing, is to the level that we want it.
For example, I managed all the packaging design for the Little Printer, which went a bit like this:
- We worked with a company who designed the physical structure of the packaging.
- Then we put together a little presentation for the look and feel of how we wanted people to experience getting the product for the first time. It's not cheap to buy, so the attention to detail of the product was something we wanted to flow into every aspect, even the packaging.
- We worked with the packaging company through different versions of packaging they produced as mockups. They went to and fro with various shapes and models.
- When we'd found a mockup that worked best, we then designed the graphics to go on the packaging.
At BERG we work in what we call 'sprints'. We work in two-week cycles, and we get a series of tasks to do in that time. In a sprint we might be aiming to get new features out for the printer, working with suppliers to design bits of the printer, ordering new manufacturing rounds, or refining the product.
Once we've rolled out the first lot of a product, we'll look at what we can improve for the next batch. The hardware on the Little Printer is the same, but we're constantly working on the software, to change the functionality. We're always adding to it to make it better, and so people know it's growing as a product.
What's the best thing about your job?
BERG's a really inspiring place to work. A lot of clever ideas come out of here. It's challenging, but in a nice way.
You start thinking about design here in a way you never expected to. I really like going to work, and that's important.
How do I get into design?
The hardest thing in design is working out exactly what you want to do. Lots of people graduate in design, but haven't quite worked out what they want to focus on.
"If you feel daunted, keep going. There are jobs at the end of it."
Design is so vast as an area, and covers so much, that I think a lot of people miss things if they haven't had the right tutor, or happened on the right books.
It's the hardest thing to get clear, so find out what you love doing. Then try these things:
- Read around online
Reading blogs and websites about design is important if you want to get into it. Make sure you've got your head in a 'design frame of mind'. Even if you're not understanding it all, you will still develop a grasp of the design world in the process.
I didn't really get thrown into the design world until I got to art college, and it was a bit of a shock. If you start while you're still at school, it's good grounding for everything you'll experience when you go to the next stage.
- Don't stop sketching
Sketch everything. Get into the habit of drawing and doodling. Getting your ideas out on paper is important, and we do it a lot at BERG, often before we get to the digital design stage. It's a really good way to get everything out of your head. Even today, with so many more digital options, it's still a good skill to have.
Scribbling is where the interesting stuff comes out. Computers are really for refining it.
- Don't pigeonhole yourself too early
Don't be too worried about whether your course is the right one. Your first job won't be your whole career. A good foundation year will cover several different kinds of design. Take the time to find out what you like.
A lot of people go into degrees that are very focused on one area of design, but once you're done you can do anything in design if you apply yourself. I've got a graphic design degree, but I've ended up doing a lot more than just the visual design of things.
- Don't panic about learning to use software
I think you're at an advantage if you finish your design training and can go straight into things, but design skills aren't all about learning to use software. It's not the most important thing.
- Don't be put off – just keep going
If you have an interesting design idea while you're still at school, go for it. Have a go at taking it somewhere. Some schools don't always understand, or won't be able to teach you, what the world of design can involve, but if you have a passion for anything and you really like designing things, try things out yourself.
If everyone around you is aiming to study more traditionally academic courses, and you feel daunted, keep going. There are jobs at the end of it.