Kerr Vernon is the Creative Director and founder of KVGD, a Glasgow based design studio that creates engaging, thoughtful, crafted design work. This has been recognised by numerous publications and organisations promoting design excellence. These include D&AD, Scottish Design Awards, Counter Print, Computer Arts and Creative Review.
1. Paper round - I think this counts? It was 1986. I was obsessed with BMX at the time. It wasn’t too much of a hardship getting up early and bombing round the mean streets of Glasgow on my BMX delivering papers for an hour before school. Obviously the pay was a pittance (enough to buy a record a week and a few cans of Tennents for the Saturday night) but it did sow the seeds of some sort of work ethic. This is despite my best efforts over the following years to do as little as possible, mess about in bands and concentrate on being the next Johnny Marr. (Sadly, a dream I still hold onto. It’s never too late, right?)
2. Finished Artist – A fancy sounding title for a spirit-crushingly dull job. I left school hastily aged 16. To this day I still kind of regret this and I really wish I’d stayed on till 6th year, got good grades and studied at Glasgow School of Art. This could never have happened though as school just wasn’t for me. I was hardly ever there and I had no interest in any subject other than art or P.E. I liked playing football, still do to this day every week.
Nobody in my family went to college or university so it was decided I’d get a job doing the only thing I was any good at. On the strength of my pencil drawings I got a job as a finished artist in a Glasgow advertising agency called Chris Cole and Associates. The pay was a pittance and in hindsight I should have still been at school hanging with my friends. I spent 3 years (from 16-19) processing darkroom prints of cars for press ads for the likes of Arnold Clark. We’d use graph paper and letraset to put them together. It was very, very old school and I was pretty green then. The creative department (3 of us) sat at big desks with slide rules. The creative director smoked a pipe all day and the studio manager smoked at least 20 a day. We each had a can of spray mount on our desks too so the air was pretty toxic. I’d easily spend around four hours a day in a tiny cupboard converted into a darkroom. Pretty miserable stuff and eventually I was made redundant. On the plus side I had some experience behind me which helped open doors.
3. Various art working jobs - I’m bunching these together as I didn’t really stay at one place for any length of time. From ages 19 – 24 I worked in three or four Glasgow advertising agencies. All gone now of course. They were good times and I met lots of cool people. Some I still see to this day. Incredibly, I was promoted to studio manager at the Bridge/Alliance. I was in charge of six art workers, it was hard work but I never took it seriously and only cared about whatever band I was in at the time. A major pet peeve of mine would be when an art director would stand behind you and ‘Direct Art’. This involved me moving things around the page for them while they stroked their chin and made the layout juuuuust right. In fact, this is pretty much what motivated me to become a designer. I also decided being a manager wasn’t for me and I left on a whim to go to Australia. I spent about two and a half years in Sydney all in. Happy days.
4. Designer – My first proper job where it said ‘Designer’ on a business card was tictoc. (They’re now a digital agency, doing pretty well I believe). By this point I’d crashed a year at Cardonald College gaining an Advanced Diploma in Graphic design. I had a student folio and some designs I’d done in Australia. It was deemed good enough for tictoc and I was delighted. I got off to a good start winning pitches but it quickly went downhill (there’s a continuing theme developing here).
I was sat next to a designer who just got it, and he knocked me into a cocked hat on a daily basis. It just wasn’t happening for me, every day the CD would say my stuff was meh, nothing I designed was good enough to make the cut. This is one of the single most important learning curves I’ve ever experienced and much later I drew upon this and got my act together and practised design properly. I didn’t hit my stride until my thirties and I’m still learning. Ultimately, I was fired from tictoc after my boss went through my emails. I was naive but desperate to get out of there.
5. Senior Designer – I joined The Curious Group after a stint of freelance. It was a fun place to work and nobody took anything very seriously, least of all the directors. I’ve learned that the quiet, studious agencies do the best work but the noiser, relaxed agencies are more fun to be in. I guess it’s about striking a balance between the two. In hindsight, if I’d stayed on at school and gone to Glasgow School of Art I’m pretty sure I’d be where I am today anyway. I just took a long, messy road to get here.
We’ve asked professionals in creative industries what jobs they have had in the past to get their foot through the door (or at least pay the rent). For more in the “My First 5 Jobs” series look here.