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Journey from Freelance Graphic Designer to Art Director — Toronto to London

In 2006 I Packed my bags, left my comfortable role at PwC as a graphic designer, and moved from Toronto to London. One of the first roles I found was as a freelance graphic designer for a WPP agency named Addison (now part of Superunion). They liked the work I did for PwC who just happened to be one of their clients.



I spent the next few months designing the global annual report for HSBC. It was a challenging project with many graphs and a perfect baseline grid that was so detailed it aligned to the stroke weight of boxes and rules.


Next, I found myself commuting to Mornington Crescent in Camden. A large art deco building, and home to a couple of WPPs powerhouse agencies. I found there were far more opportunities in London than there were for a freelance graphic designer in Toronto.



My first stop was at Young & Rubicam to work on the Bacardi Global Brand Guidelines. Developing brand assets and outlining their implementation according to a strict set of rules. After completing this project I moved downstairs to Wunderman into perhaps the largest agency I had the pleasure to work for. Here I flexed my Adobe Flash muscles to spin an endless number of RangeRover Rims and worked on designs for Virgin Atlantic.



It had been just over a year in London when I joined GYRO as a full-time senior graphic designer. They also had Virgin Atlantic as a client with more of a B2B or below-the-line workflow. Plus it just happened to be in Chelsea Harbour, within walking distance from my flat. I found my pod of senior graphic designers and enjoyed the comforts of walking home for lunch.

Most of the year I spent at Gyro was designing the emails, direct mail, and print ad campaigns for Virgin Atlantic, Sony, and Xerox. A bunch of late nights working on pitches. I did get to do a few exciting projects including a video for Tate&Lyle and a microsite for Virgin.


IBM, Lexmark, Lewis PR

I had now been working directly under some very talented creative directors and was ready to step up to the challenge myself. Lewis PR allowed me to step into the driver's seat.

I didn’t see much difference between being a graphic designer and an art director. The essence was the same — know your audience. Although Having a team did make it possible to produce work on a larger scale.


One agency that I spent quite a bit of time with was LEWIS Working with their fantastic team on projects ranging from viral and gorilla campaigns to cool websites for clients like IBM and Lexmark


Still flexing my Adobe Flash muscles whenever possible like on this viral game for Lexmark that helped the user decide what kind of printer would fit them best based on a series of questions that would produce a personal world filled with various items.


This is where I got a taste for directing photoshoots and composing visual storytelling. For the LEWIS annual report, we created a theme around the digital revolution. I also selected a very lightweight recycled fiber for printing to reduce shipping weight and the carbon footprint.


Crabtree & Evelyn

My photography skills served me well with a famous cosmetics line where I directed product and fashion photography. Designed a few product brands, website designs, and email campaigns.


Moving Back to Toronto was perhaps a more difficult transition than moving to London in the first place. Over the years I had established a network and even a couple of my clients and it felt like starting over.

Now I know recruitment agents and their reach. This quickly helped me get back into the swing of the freelance market. One of my first tasks was designing and building out digital GM digital marketing campaigns for McCann. At the time the demand for freelance graphic designers and Art Directors in design studios seemed high.



Next, I met the great folks at Traffikgroup working on designs for Smirnoff and Crown Royal including graphics for the Toronto Raptors and Maple Leafs that covered the stadium and union station. This included not only building out the artwork, but also logistics, implementation, and planning.

After six years of mainly freelance work in top global design and advertising agencies, I decided to focus on entrepreneurship. This included starting a co-working space and working directly with start-ups in Toronto.

Start-up energy was sweeping across Toronto in 2011 and I was inspired to establish my design agency. The primary goal was to work with other entrepreneurs and startups to help them build their products and brands. This pivoted us from just branding towards experience and product design. And of course, graphic design in Toronto provided many opportunities to meet these new companies.


After working across various co-working spaces going back to when I first landed in London in 2006. It seemed only natural to consider opening up a co-working space to offset the cost of rent and help build a community of like-minded people.

I also started to establish my design agency and build a team. One thing that is always a challenge for new sites is getting ranked in Google. Listing my site on various b2b web design and website builder lists helped with SEO. As well as agency profiles are various sites like Designrush and Clutch.


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