12 weeks, 6 life lessons, 3 bikes, 1 city.

“I think I’ve just put yogurt in my coffee, its curdling”

1. Communication and culture chaos

My first two weeks living in Amsterdam were spent lost and confused. Shopping and travelling to work were no longer simple everyday tasks, they was mission impossible!

Figuring out the transportation system was like trying to crack the Da Vinci code. I can barely transport myself around England and I have lived there for 20 years. Reflecting on how I felt travelling to work on my first day I can’t help but laugh because now the tram system is second nature. It’s rare that I use public transport in the week as I bought myself a bike to travel to and from work. Bikes however is a touchy subject at the minute as I’m currently riding round Amsterdam on my third as my first two were stolen. When you leave the keys in the lock though can you really expect anything less?

For anyone planning a trip to Amsterdam in the future make sure you hire a bike. You get to see so much more of the wonderful city. Take it through Vondelpark and embrace the scenery and Dutch culture. But first make sure you have full travel insurance because Dutch cyclists are roofless. No exaggeration! Vondelpark is one of my favourite places in Amsterdam. The atmosphere is amazing and the scenery is beautiful. Unlike back home you don’t see unintelligent teenagers roaming around in army’s draped in Henry Lloyd causing mischief wherever and whenever possible.

Due to all the cycling through the park and to work not only have my leg muscles increased but so has my appetite. I literally cannot stop eating! I wouldn’t mind but doing a food shop when every food label is written in Dutch is extremely difficult.


“Oh a Jumpsuit is called a Jumpsuit because that’s what you just out of planes in”

2. Fashion facts for dummies.

This is one of many brainwaves I have had whilst starting my new job at Mexx. Before starting my placement I was very apprehensive about working in the world of fashion. I didn’t really know what to expect. Most people have a preconceived idea of the fashion industry thinking it’s terrifically glamorous but when I was sat at my desk one day staring aimlessly into my computer screen I come to the conclusion fashion is not all fun and games. This was another one of my magical brainwaves.


“Is it half 5 yet?”

3. Carrier confusion

One of the most useful pieces of information I have learnt so far working for Mexx is that I positively do not want to work in an office. I literally cannot still at my desk. My eyes start to pour staring at a screen all day and my bum becomes so numb. Office work is defiantly not for me. The unnerving question is what do I want to do? I’m trusting another brainwave will emerge any day in the near future. I say trust but really I mean hope.


“Sophia!!! Put some clothes on.”

4. Confidence is the foundation of all success.

As much as I love fashion and shopping for new clothes, I seem to have gained a reputation for being in the nude. Some people admire my confidence whereas others just think I’m bonkers! On a more serious note however…even though I’m dazed about where I want to be in 10 years’ time, I have learnt the one characteristic I can count on to get me there is confidence.  Dr Norman Vincent Peale once said “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy”-Wise words from a wise man.

A few weeks ago I met up with graphic designer Naomi den Beston. I love the work she produces. Seems as though she’s based in Amsterdam I thought why not drop her an email introducing myself thinking what have I got to lose? I received a lovely email back inviting me to join her for coffee at her apartment. She gave me so much useful advice over coffee and told me about a bunch of events nearby I should attend and people in the design industry she will introduce me too. On my way home overwhelmed with her kindness I thought to myself how if I never had the confidence to send the first initial email all these new exciting doors would never gave been opened.


“I could call you and we could see if we can arrange to work together?”

6. Hard work pays really does pay off!

During my journey home deep in thought after talking with Naomi I also started to reflect on our conversation. At first I thought about how lucky I am to be living in Amsterdam and have the opportunity to meet with lovely people like her. Amsterdam is such a great place to be spending my placement year, known for its creativity, design and inspiration floods the streets. After a while I realized (not only had I missed my tram stop deep in thought) it’s not luck that has brought me to Amsterdam. It was hard work; you make your own luck.


“What’s wrong Soph?”

5. Family and friends

Four weeks after flying the nest I started to feel an inkling of homesickness. It’s not so much the place as let’s face it who could possibly miss the glorious sights and stench of Ellesmereport. Family and friends is what I miss most.  Moving to a foreign country having to be totally independent has made me appreciate the people in my life to a greater degree. It scares me sometimes how for the first time in my life I can’t just pick up the phone to my dad and get him to pick me up or to ask one of my many stupid questions.  I try my best not to let it bother me as after all when I get too homesick I can always just book a flight home at the click of a mouse. Plus flying home warrants a shopping spree in duty free. A self-confessed shopaholic like me can’t really complain. Life couldn’t be much better right now.


Ellen Vesters gives 10 tips on how to fail and still become a happy and successful entrepeneur

I watched this lecture from Ellen Vesters that she did at a creative mornings. She is Choosing a successful entrepreneur. Besides her illustration work, she runs her own (web)shop Urlaub, a graphic design concept store. She is part of the creative collective Totem, organizes creative workshops creative workshops and gives business bootcamps for creative entrepreneurs.

I found this talk very useful as people always talk about the highlights of their carrier but never their failures. Working in the world of deign its never going to be easy which is why i can take some really good advice from Ellen. Highlighting her own mistakes has made me realise its okay to fail as long as you learn from them!

Choosing a creative carrier path is a risking business, what if no one likes your work? This is always a constant worry most designers will have in the back of their mind. Listening to Ellen talking about how she got to where she is today has taught me, you just got to keep trying and pushing your work forward. A quote from the video i really like is “fake it until you make it”.

Today I met with the Graphic designer Naomi den Besten for coffee!

Naomi  is a graphic designer based in Amsterdam who runs her own graphic design company called “Pretty unexpected”. She specialises in branding, print and web design services for small businesses and solopreneurs. I came across her work whilst browsing the web for inspiration for my graphic design work.
After looking through her work and reading about her and her passion for design, I was really inspired by the way she brands herself and her clean, to-the-point style of work. When i seen she was based in Amsterdam, I thought i might as well drop her a email and see what become of it.
I was really over whelmed with the response i got, she liked my work and asked if i wanted to meet for coffee! She also mentioned one day maybe working together on a project, eeeekkkkkk how exciting!!!!
So today i took a trip to her apartment in the centre of Amsterdam. Over coffee we talked about graphic design and i asked her many questions regarding her work and business. She was a lovely lady and gave me so much help regarding my future and my work. Studying graphic design right now I’m a little confused into the carrier path i want to undertake but after talking to Naomi she made me realise that time is not an issue. I have plenty of time to decide and like her it could may well take until I’m 29.
She gave me a tour of her work space and showed me examples of some of the briefs she’s currently working on. I really love her simplistic approach to graphic design. She uses minimal colour and simple compositions of text and images. Her style is consistent throughout all her projects which i think is one of the best aspects of her work.
Today showed me that in the world of design if you don’t promote yourself and connect with people you will not make it far. Naomi mentioned so many people she said she would be happy to introduce me to and said if i ever need any help or advice to drop her an email. At this early stage of my carrier as a graphic designer this will be extremely helpful, i couldn’t be more grateful!

You can look at her work and contact her via her website…


Design practise in context 2, Ken Garland essay.

Ken Garland is a highly renowned British graphic designer, author and game designer born in 1929. He was educated at the London central school of arts. From here Design magazine hired him as editor for 6 years, this meant he had tremendous responsibilities designing and writing. His reputation soon started to grow within the graphic design industry as more and more of designs become published. He then started to contribute ideas to the toy manufacturing company ‘Galt Toys’. For this company he designed some large wooden toys, which then turned to games. Ken was the brain behind the successful game ‘Connect’. In 1962 he became his own boss and established his own studio ‘Ken Garland & Associates’. At this stage of his life he had already been massively successful through his designs and writing however it wasn’t until 196 until Ken wrote and proclaimed, “First things first manifesto”. The manifesto is the main reason I am interested in Ken as a practitioner as it argues a strong argument that I agree with myself.

The manifesto is in favour of the more useful, democratic and lasting forms of communication such as environmental, social and cultural crises. It draws upon ideas shared by Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School which is a social and political philosophical movement of thought located in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The First Things First manifesto was written at a time when the British economy was booming. Demanding a “Reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication.” Garland claims for a ”society that will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesman and hidden persuaders”. It strongly disagrees with the consumerist culture, whereby people are obsessed with buying and selling. The signatories wanted to make a clear distinction between design as a form of communication (conveying information) and design as a persuasion (trying to get consumers to buy things). It also highlights a Humanist dimension to graphic design theory.

The manifesto was backed by over 400 graphic designers and was signed by twenty-one other visual communicators, if I had the chance I would be the twenty-second. Four hundred copies were published in January 1964. Some of the signatories were well-established figures such as Edward Wright and Anthony Froshaug a typographer of great influence. Others were students, teachers, photographers and up and coming designers.

The main message I feel Ken was trying to transcribe within his writing was how “There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills”. This has inspired my career as a graphic designer to not settle for commercial work. It may pay the bills but design should not be powered or generated for wealth but for love and with passion behind the subject matter.

I believe the manifesto-stimulated discussion in all areas of visual communication. As in 2000 thirty-three other visual communicators renewed it. The new version “First things thirst manifesto 2000” was published in 1999 in Adbusters (Canada), Emigre (Issue 51) and AIGA Journal of Graphic Design (United States), Eye magazine no. 33 vol. 8, Autumn 1999, Blueprint (Britain) and Items (Netherlands). Katherine McCoy an American graphic designer who signed the new manifesto said, “We have trained a profession that feels political or social concerns are either extraneous to our work or inappropriate.“

As I strongly agree with Ken Garland’s ideas as a graphic designer I wanted to base this project upon him as I was keen to know about his life in greater depth than the basic facts on Wikipedia. Before I started to design my icon book, I researched many existing icon books. Firstly I looked at “The Introducing… series and the …For Beginners series. These are two book series of graphic guides covering key thinkers and topics. They take a classic approach to icon books combining text with image. The lexis used is informative with tendencies of whit.

After studying the classic approach to icon books I started to look at graphic designers who have published contemporary icon books. Stephen McCarthy tells the story of the English riots using pictograms. The entire story is told without words. Personally I was intrigued by the contemporary approach to icon books. The classic approach I found rather unexciting and longwinded, they didn’t ignite any form of interest towards the key thinker/topic. This is when I started to draw a basic timeline of Ken Garland’s key life events; I wanted to simplify my research to a very basic form with the intention of making my icon book easily understood and not to overwhelming. Unlike Stephen McCarthy’s approach to icon books I still wanted to combine text with image.

Expanding my knowledge of Ken Garland and his work I watched his lecture entitled “Word and image” at The TYPO London 2012 International Design Conference. “TYPO inspires, offers insights and experiments, encourages the exchange of knowledge and is a creative playground for communication professionals.” Within the lecture he visits the original conjunction of spoken word and image. Watching the lecture I was inspired by the repetition of the word “quirky”. Ken Garland said, “I am a bit quirky” on numerous occasions. Through his quirkiness he has gained a lot of respect within design, therefore this small comment made me yearn for an alternative approach to my own icon book. What can I do to make my icon book stand out?

During his lecture word and image Ken captivated the audience by reading out a sequence of short poems. The very last poem told the story of a young boy dressed in a black vest and a pair of shorts. The young boy incessantly rings his front doorbell. The unique and personal atmosphere Garland manages to create is admirable and very delightful to watch. It amazed me how poetry had such power and dexterity. The audience looks mesmerized within the video clip. At this stage of my research is when I decided to play around with poetry myself. I had already decided I wanted to take a quirky approach to my icon book, therefore I thought it would be clever to educate people about Ken Garland in the form of a poem.

After deciding upon the facts from my research I thought were key to include about ken Garland within an icon book, I started to put together rhyming sentences. Soon sentences started to generate, I put them together to form a poem. The poem tells a short story of his life events starting from his education at the London central school of arts to his later work including his First things first manifesto and his own studio ‘Ken Garland & Associates’. I am very happy with the finished poem, I think informing people with this style of writing will attract a larger target audience. The simplicity of it will make the icon book be easily read and understood by a younger age range as well as an elder one. Presenting his life in the form of a poem I think will also encourage people to read and learn, as the typical icon book style can be quite overwhelming. The poem adds playfulness and a quirky edge, which is exactly what I set out to achieve.

To inspire the aesthetics of my icon book during my research firstly I looked at the first comprehensive monograph devoted to the entire career of Ken Garland. It was written by Adrian Shaughnessy, a graphic designer and writer based in London. Within the book he includes rare personal photographs from Kens collection, interviews with Ken himself and touches on many aspects of Garlands career: the ethical and political designer; the writer; the teacher; the photographer. However I wasn’t studying the book for its context but I was closely looking at the design decisions Adrian Shaughnessy made. I wanted to see how other designers have presented Ken Garlands life, what colour schemes they have chosen and the typeface they have used. The layout of the book is extremely modernist following a grid system, colour is minimal and all text is black on a white background. On many pages text is minimal too, images are large covering sometimes a two-page spread. These are all design choices that helped inspire me as a designer.

The make-up of the icon I feel is just as important as the context. After vivid research I decided I wanted my icon book to endure simplicity but also be visually compelling. Ken Garland is a highly regarded graphic designer therefore his life story should not need jazzing up with an array of bright colours and images. To add to the playfulness of the poem I wanted to illustrate his life story with my own drawings. The brief stated to produce a 5 page icon book therefore I cut up my poem into 5 sections. On each page I drew illustrations to denote the stage of Ken Garlands life in the poem. My illustrations are very basic with just a black outline giving them a cartoon aesthetic.

The process I followed to illustrate my poem was firstly I drawn up storyboards exploring different possibility’s. Once I had finalized my idea I had drawn it neatly using a fine black pen. When I was happy with the illustrations I scanned them into my computer and put then in an In-Design document to work on top of. In-Design is where I started to add colour, I only added yellow and red to keep it simple. Red was a common colour that Adrian Shaughnessy used when designed his monograph of Ken Garland. The images are not large creating a lot of blank white space. Therefore like Adrian Shaughnessy’s monograph my icon book has a modernist aesthetic.

I laid the images in line with text giving the page structure and order. The typeface I used for the text was ‘Helvetica’. I decided to use ‘Helvetica’ because it’s a simplistic legible sans-serif font that is extremely well known. ‘Helvetica’ is among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces. It was developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann. As it is such a highly recognized typeface I thought it would be greatly suitable to represent Ken Garlands life story, as he is such a commendable character. Just like Ken Garland ‘Helvetica’ is undoubtedly as successful.

The design of my icon book is unarguably different to “The Introducing… series and the …For Beginners series that I had studied in my research yet shares tendencies of design with the more contemporary icon books I looked at. Like Stephen McCarthy my illustrations are minimalistic and layered upon a plain white background. I do not have much interest in the traditional style of icon books what so ever, which is why I followed a contemporary design route.

Through intense research and planning I am profoundly happy with the finished icon book I have produced. It is successful in educating people about Ken Garland’s life in a stimulating manner. The use of a poem and unique illustrations, adds a fun twist to the icon book compelling people to read. With further experimentation I feel the aesthetic qualities could be improved, I could research modernist design in even further depth and maybe look at an even wider range of existing icon books. However the text I included and design choices I made as it stands, I feel are well educated. The strongest aspect of my icon book I feel is the poem I wrote, as it is unique to me. Quirkiness is a quality that will get you recognized in the design industry as companies are constantly looking for new ways to stand out.

Design practise in context 2, Ken Garland poem.

After studying existing icon books both old fashioned and contemporary I become rather bored within the process. Although text was always accompanied with playful imagery the text wasn’t always exciting to read.
Which is why I have decided to present he information I want to educate readers with in the form of a poem. Using rhythm within my writing I think will add a quirky twist to my icon book and entice the audience to read on. This is the poem I have written about the the life and works of Ken Garland.

In 1929 was born a graphic designer who goes by the name of Ken.

It was London’s Central School of Arts that taught him how to use a pen.


From hard work and dedication Design magazine hired him as editor in 1956.

Taking charge of designing, printing and advertising, his responsibilities were a great mix.

But this career was not enough for young ken.

A mutual feeling amongst colleague Edward Newmark, they both were very eager men.

They both started to contribute big ideas to the successful company Galt Toys.

Have you ever wondered who designed the game Connect?
Well stop right there because these are your boys!


Working hard within the world of graphic design, photography, conferencing and publishing writing.

Ken decided to set up his own business in 1962 called ‘Ken Garland & Associates’ the prospect was exciting.


It wasn’t until 1963 that Ken decided to voice his ideas and strong opinions.

Believing Design is not a neutral, value-free process, Ken wrote First things first manifesto hoping to open the eyes of millions.


He said the greatest efforts of advertisers are wasted on trivial purposes such as selling cat food.

A common view among graphic designers, so common in 2000 it was renewed.