Nikki Barker, client services director
Nikki started off in branding and print design. After realising her skills were more people- and process-focused, she moved over into client services.
I'm from Suffolk, where I live now. I've also lived in both Cornwall and London.
What job do you do?
Client services director for Spring, which focuses on delivering creative design and campaigns based on planning, research and strategy. Client services roles can also be referred to as account management.
Clients include Bollinger, EDF Energy, Archant, Thwaites and The Suffolk Coast.
How did you get started in design?
I always knew I wanted to be creative. I took a BTEC route through college and achieved a diploma in Design. But I didn't think that going on to university was the right path for me.
Instead, as I finished, I was lucky enough to go straight into a junior designer position at an agency in Norwich, which was my closest city.
"I sit down with a client and try to understand what it is they want."
I worked up the ladder from there, and, after working at a few agencies in East Anglia where I lived, I moved to London to join an agency called Town for a middleweight designer’s role, which was a step up for me.
Town had great clients, such as the BBC, Disney and Time Publications.
I went on to become a senior designer for branding and marketing firm WPB. While I was there, I came to realise that I was increasingly more interested in the client relationship and process side of things.
So I took an account management role with my next position, leaving the design side behind.
I worked my way up within the profession, eventually becoming a client services director at Spring.
What qualifications do you have?
I enjoyed doing Graphic Design at GCSE as well as the BTEC National and EARAC Diplomas as part of a two year course at Lowestoft College of Further Education.
I was also able to secure some agency internships, which allowed me to focus on what I wanted to do professionally in a working environment.
I undertake ongoing vocational training, such as presentation courses and client services courses. For example, I've completed a presentation course run by Dramatic Resources, which was very inspiring.
What do you do at work?
In a nutshell, my job is about defining the client's brief and making sure that the presented solution delivers on their expectations.
I sit down with a client to understand what it is they want to achieve. Once this is agreed I undertake a planning and research phase to really understand their audience and market.
"Make sure you take the credit for your involvement in a project."
From this I write a creative brief and hold an immersive briefing session with the design team so they understand the task and everything that needs considering to create an effective solution. Together we create the strategy.
I'm there throughout the whole project, supporting the design team throughout the creative stage.
The role of client services staff is important because we act as intermediaries between the client and the studio. It's good to have someone to be in the middle, who can understand both the client’s objectives and the designers’ creative vision to ensure objectives are met with an effective creative solution.
The job does of course include admin and finance, so it's worth having a head for numbers if you want to go into it. Part of the job is to be profitable after all!
But the most important skill is being able to have good working relationships, with your team, with your clients and also with suppliers.
For some people account management can appear less exciting than being a designer, but I find it both creative and varied. I like the fact that I get to work with all sorts of people.
Client services managers working in the design industry do have to have to be creative. But I think having been a designer really gives me an additional advantage and further appreciation of the work the design team does.
What's the best thing about your job?
The client relationship side is the most satisfying part – it's great working with them day-to-day. I like always thinking about how I can do more for the client to grow the relationship.
It's also great to work with all sort of companies and organisations, and therefore learn about different markets.
And the worst thing about your job?
The design industry used to be all about print, but now of course there’s a large digital element to our work. It can be difficult for some clients to understand that different channels from those expected are the best option for them.
"Account management can appear less exciting than being a designer, but I find it both creative and varied."
Sometimes we'll do the research, plan the strategy and have a great idea to reach their audience, but the client is too afraid to take the leap and try something different. This is very frustrating.
It’s our bravest clients who understand that if you take bold steps you will profit.
How do I get into design?
1. Show off big brands on your CV
Even if the work you did with them was small, make sure you emphasise any big brands that you've worked with.
2. Don't be afraid to talk yourself up
If you were working with a team of designers that worked on a project, then ensure that you tell people that you were a part of that team. Make sure you take the credit for your involvement in a project.
3. Show your mix of skills
Demonstrate that you know how to work with lots of different channels: brochures, digital campaigns, radio broadcasts for example. It's great to show you can diversify.