A Month In The Life Of A Graphic Designer

Over the next month, Michael C Place of Build and Creative Review will be conducting a unique experiment. We are going to document one month in the life of a graphic designer.

Build desk

Over the next month, Michael C Place of Build and Creative Review will be conducting a unique experiment. We are going to document one month in the life of a graphic designer.

Mr Place (whose desk is shown above) has agreed to record everything that he does during this period. Every piece of work. Every idea. Every presentation. Every meeting.

During the four weeks there will be regular updates here at the CR Blog. You’ll thrill as he meets his bank manager. Gasp as he checks some proofs. Marvel as he tours exotic locations such as Walthamstow and Epping Forest. All will be revealed.

At the end of the four weeks, we are going to publish this unique insight into the life of a graphic designer in a special August issue of Creative Review, out the week of 23 July.

As a first taste, here is Michael’s diary for last week.

11.06.07 – E17
07:48 – Studio
07:56 Keys, Door, Stairs, Door, Key-code, Alarm, Door, Power on, Modem, Printer, Airport, Desk, Switch, G5 power on, Blinds, Window, Password, Font Explorer X, Photoshop, FreeHand MX, Entourage, iTunes [Strategy – Can’t Roll Back], Safari.
Build is Michael, Nicky, Brockmann & Betty.

Thinking about 50 exhibition design, Generation Press identity/print, Design Museum project, Getty Images project, Faber & Faber project, Get Involved poster, Our new identity/website.

Weekly meeting, discuss with Nicky what we are doing this week, who gets priority etc. I find the business sides of this job really difficult, Nicky is brilliant at it. I just want to design but i’ve really realised that the business side is really important. Build is now a limited company. We are 5 years old. Year 1 [Months 1-3] – Dining table in a basement flat in Camden. Year 1-2 – Table in front room Fulham. Year 2-4 – Spare room Clapham. Year 4-5 Bigger spare room Walthamstow. Year 5 Current home [and a dedicated] Studio space in Walthamstow.

Simple Sounds album sleeve design, photography by Chris Allen. Just got the scanned shots for the album back from Paul down the corridor. Colour correcting day. Really enjoyable. Wren flew into the studio, chased around by Manni [cat], chaos ensues…

Leave 19:12.

Get in late [11:01] due to eczema playing up, quite depressed. Sat at home until it subsided. Although i hate my eczema and i wish i didn’t have it, if it was a toss up between getting rid of it and losing the ability to design, i would [i think] stick with being able to design. I really think that me having asthma & eczema has been fundamental in me pursuing a career in design. It generally kept me indoors, and my development for all things art was born from not being able to do all the things ‘normal’ kids could/did do. My life would be perfect if i didn’t have eczema, my asthma isn’t that bad, i can put up with that.
Music: Adam Johnson – Chigliak.
Worked on more ‘Simple Sounds’ colour correction, sketched ideas for Design Museum project. Inspiration from my collection of old Letraset catalogues [I collect them, usually from eBay]. Especially liking ‘Fino’ at the moment. We completed a project for a shop in Hong Kong called ‘Type’ [almost a year ago now] that hopefully will be out soon, every piece of print had a generic layout/system, and a different display typeface [re–drawn from scans of various Letraset catalogues]. It’s really frustrating that it isn’t out yet, maybe i’ll put it all in the CR piece?

Leave 20:53.

Music: Found Sound 3.
Design Museum project, work up ideas [in FreeHand MX], send to Simon at DM.
Start/Finish poster for Get Involved.
Leave [2:13] for meetings in town [Marc & Tommi re. Our new website + Patrick/CR re. A month in the life piece].

Meet Marc & Tommi [Design Club, ex-Hi-Res! people] at The Diner [Hoxton], really exciting seeing the our new site working for the first time. The whole website project has been a new thing for us, we asked M&T to not only build the site, but to design it as well. So we became the dreaded ‘client’! The whole project started in January this year and over the course of 3-4 meetings we are nearly there. Being the client was actually really enjoyable, Nicky & I found that we almost fell into the ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine at meetings, i just want it to look beautiful, Nicky wanted it to be really functional. What M&T have come up with really ticks both boxes. It’s really interesting to experience the process from the other side, and i can imagine it was quite hard at times for M&T, i found that when it came to type choices etc. i couldn’t hold my tongue. The technical side we were really happy for them to do their thing, the whole coding thing for me is a black art. We really enjoy working with web/motion people, generally directing though. Letting go was really hard, but i feel that i have gained something from the whole process. So now it’s just small tweaks, tidying up lay-outs and hopefully the site should launch in late July.

17:00 Meet Patrick, Gavin & Nathan at Creative Review towers in town to discuss what we are going to do with this column/piece. Surprised at their office [i was expecting this swish ‘designer’ office], so it’s not all glamour! Patrick suggested going to the pub [I am midway through a cleansing month off the booze at this point so i had a sensible Coke™] to discuss how to do the piece. Got slightly worried when i discovered it was 12 pages and the cover. All sorted though, hopefully people will enjoy it.

Home 21:12.

Music: Bill Hicks – Flying Saucer Tour, Vol. 1: 6/20/91, Pittsburgh, PA [Live].
Get Involved poster tweaks, approved by Gavin.
Start sketches/thinking for 50 exhibition print. New job, cover for Sun Electric [an electronic music duo that i used to do covers for at tDR], as someone who basically did record sleeve design for most of his working career i still get really excited by the medium. We don’t do as many record sleeves as I used to but when i do it’s something i really enjoy. The Simple records sleeve for instance, working with Chris on the photos, travelling out to Epping Forest, dodging cars on the dual carriage-way, un-used tennis courts and vast open-spaced car-parks, people looking at you like you are crazy for taking pictures of a lump of Yellow plastic at World of Beds™ on a very depressing retail park in E17. But then you get the pictures back, and lay the sleeve out and it becomes this beautiful [yet odd] narrative. I love seeing the beauty in objects/places that to most people are ugly and ignored. I think that’s the job of a designer, reacting to the environment, seeing beneath the crap of everyday life, seeing the beauty below.

2nd Year Brighton student Laura Southcott in for an interview/portfolio show for a summer placement. We get so many emails for placements/jobs and Laura’s was one that we liked enough to get her in for a chat. Now that we have the studio it’s been great having people come in to show their portfolios, it’s really important part of a students course/life and one i recognise [i did a placement at I–D Magazine & tDR when at college]. Last week i did a talk at Ravensbourne to the 2nd & 3rd years, and i tried to impress on them that this isn’t a 9-5 job [i know for some it can be], if you really want to succeed/get on then the worst thing you can do is turn up late and leave early, as soon as someone does that personally i forget about them. We offered Laura a week placement to see how she gets on [and as much for us to see how we get on with someone else in the studio], with a view to another 1 or 2 weeks.
More work for The Design Museum project, leave the studio at 02:30am. See two foxes on the way home.

Meeting at the bank. Realisation: All banks are crap. It’s just a case of finding one that understands a creative business. being a small business one of the things that can be a struggle is cash flow, people generally don’t pay on time. I made the mistake of when i started of almost ignoring the business side of the company, it was all about the design, and that still is true but now Nicky is full-time [she previously worked for Sony Playstation] we are really working on getting the business side sorted. It’s really important.
Check proofs from Generation Press [a really good printers] for a side-project we are doing with them, really excited working with Paul and Generation Press, we use them whenever we can, it’s very important to build up a good working relationship with your printers. I remember it used to be a bit of a battle the whole designer/printer relationship, sometimes a real struggle to get what you wanted from a printer. The project we are doing with them is going to be amazing. We are also in the middle of redesigning their identity and print collateral.
Leave 18.11.

16.06.07 [Saturday]–
Still sorting out the room that we used to work from home, dismantled the shelves and brought them up to the studio. Studio still not finished, boxes everywhere, but Nicky is making really good progress.
Music: Innerzone Orchestra – Programmed.

17.06.07 [Sunday]–
Music: Isolée – We Are Monster.
Nicky assembles shelves, sorts out boxes of old tDR work. label copy in for ‘Simple Sounds’ cover, lay out inlays ready for deluge of ‘thank you’ credits. Collate notes/images for ‘A month in the life of…’ piece. Say we will leave by 13:00, leave at 15:14. I always knew we would eventually get a studio space but never realised how positive the move has been in terms of work and life, whilst working at home i used to really enjoy it, i am a very focused person so i never used to slack off and watch the old Black & White film in the afternoon [though i did watch ‘Bargain Hunt’ religiously], i had the cats for company, i could work in my pyjamas if i wanted to [and did sometimes], but after a while not being able to seperate work from home started to become a bit of a problem. We used to walk past the mews and see this building at the end that looked interesting, we looked it up online and went in just before Christmas last year to look around, we were shown this space and was wowed, but thought it too big, we saw some other units that were small, too small really. We then got a call from the owner of the building who made us a very good offer and we moved into the space in late February this year. Having the studio has enabled us to do so many things we couldn’t do whilst working from home, from projects [spray-painting sheets of glass all night for D&AD] to having students in on placements, to thinking in a different way, the space really enables me to think more clearly, it’s less claustrophobic, lovely light etc.
Leave 15:14.

Received: 535.
Sent: 217.
Junk: 28.

  • Rich

    19.06.07 [Tuesday]
    Music – Reallycoolweirdtechno

    Bored graphic designer at work sees whats going on E-CR.
    Reads two lines of Michael C Place’s diary, shrugs shoulders and switches off monitor as deep, unrelenting boredom overwells him.

  • andeth

    deary me, lads
    did you forget that most of the people who read your blog are doing more or less the same thing as mickey love for a job and seek some sort of escape from it when we get a cheeky five minutes to look at your blog! much respect to CR and Build, but really… lets see some images of the work he’s been doing at least if your going to carry on with this.

  • Mark

    Thanks for your comments.

    Andeth – you’re quite right; this extract is only a sample of what the final piece will consist of. As yet, we haven’t finalised what artwork we’ll be featuring in the magazine (any examples of work in progress have to be cleared with the relevant parties/clients etc).

    What we also hope to do is give the huge numbers of readers who aren’t graphic designers an idea of what the day-to-day workings of this kind of job involve.

    I think it will also appeal to those who like Mike’s work and would like to get more an idea of how he approaches projects, what the good and bad parts of the job are, how his business functions – rather than simply showing his latest designs off.

  • Rich

    COME ONE! Because, like, theyre are soooo many readers of creative review who arent graphic designers or who at some level arent envolved in graphic design and its associated industries, and for whom this day to day list of life wouldnt be blandly familiar.
    this is naval gazing at stratospheric proportions. great for build’s own personal blog, a spread or two inside, but not for a cover and 12 pages of creative review. we want to be challenged by CR, exposed to new ideas, work, ways of thinking, not given a list of what many of us do every sodding day.
    Build’s life has better get a lot more exciting for a project like this to work, or else both CR and build are going to look pretty daft.

  • willrust

    I have to agree.


  • willrust

    Actually come to think of it, the whole project would work better if you added “Age 32 3/4” to the end of the title.

  • creativereview

    As Mark explained, the Month-in-the-life piece in the magazine will be visually led and will show work-in-progress and personal projects that wouldn’t normally be seen – as well as bits of work that Michael finishes in the month he’s kindly agreed to take part in this experiment.

    And we would like to point out that this is very much an experiment – we haven’t done this before and we are trying to use our blog in an original and intersting way – and tie it in to original and interesting content in the magazine – to give our readers more content, more insight, more ways of looking at things…

    And of course, as this is a big experiment (just as our Green issue was earlier this year) all feedback is welcome. Another great feature of the blog! Anyone else got some thoughts on this?

  • matthew_day

    Going against the grain, I wanted to say as a student and there has to be as many Graphic Design students that read CR as actual Designers, I thought this sounded like an interesting idea that will give some insight into how a particular agency works.

    I can’t believe that every single agency/designer works in exactly the same way!

    Personally I’m looking forward to it, the image element to it should really bring it together.

  • Rich

    anyone got some positive thoughts? anyone? anyone?
    cos the green issue was like a BIG success… strangely, a rush in coverless magazines has been less than forthcoming since that epoc defining edition.
    NB – think this is a good place for a Build blog (im a big fan of the E-CR site), but not for a big cover feature in the mag. but hey, i may just be proved wrong…

  • It could be great, it could be a complete disaster!
    But i’d rather try something like this than sit around posting comments on blogs…wait that’s what i’m doing…
    Anyway, good or bad comments, i think it will be interesting to some people.
    If only for people to see me in a Darth Vader helmet*

    *Coming soon.


  • ndc

    I applaud CR for commissioning a feature that will provide such a valuable insight into the day-by-day life and work of a well-respected designer. The design industry can often prove very insular and guarded – perhaps unnecessarily so. There are so few opportunities to examine industry working practices, so the feature itself can only be welcomed.

    While I am certain that a 4 week snapshot of the diary at Build will prove to be very interesting, I can’t help but be sceptical that it will provide a typical image of the design industry in general. If the intention as stated is to provide an honest overview to those both inside and outside of the design sphere, perhaps CR should have profiled a different candidate?

    I’ll use a simple example from the week diaried so far, where it was interesting to see that not a single entry was made in relation to new business generation; this somewhat dry and often-hated area forms a major part of most design studios’ time; neglecting it would be akin to commercial suicide. It will be interesting to see whether the upcoming weeks allure to how Build secures all that work? (Presumably the answer lies buried away in those 535 emails!)

    So thanks again to CR and to Michael for lifting the lid on what will no doubt make for a fascinating feature, but do be careful that such a snapshot from a prolific and revered figure doesn’t further glamorise and embed the lie that the business and daily life of a designer is all smiles and drawing pretty pictures. There are a lot of design students and “non-designers” alike out there that need that myth shattering!

  • Rich

    i stand corrected and look forward with much interest to more fascinating tales of life in buildland®

  • DarrenF

    I’m not sure it should be something taken that seriously to be honest, I quite like the concept and have found it quite interesting so far actually. As stated numerous times, its an experiment and thus will produce an unpredicted outcome…could be great, could be really dull….It’s probably best holding off on the judgement, until the final piece is printed up in August. Try reading another thread if its that boring.

  • sandazahirovic

    Great! Finaly my mum will understand what this is all about!

    But personaly I hope it will be more interesting (the text and the visuals) becouse I got bored after the first day.. s**t maybe I shouldn be studying graphics..

  • Markuz

    I look forward to this, but I too am pretty sure it’s not meant to be taken this seriously anyway.

    Mike’s the friendly, honest side of Design, I see no reason why a few barriers can’t be lowered now and again.

    GD can be a little too elitist for it’s own good, Builds work sells itself, without Mike going all Rockstar on us. While many can only hope to achieve his creative success maybe we can at least gain some encouragement from the fact that his working day ain’t so far removed from our own…

    I look forward to seeing who else might take part in the future too.

  • junesix

    This will be interesting to follow.

    Incidentally, is there a larger version of the headline image? I think it would make a great wallpaper for my desktop.

  • pb

    Oh God. Yet another vacuous, transparently self-promotional, project presented under some vague pretence of an idea.


  • It’s great to read about what I do, being done by someone else. I get immense satisfaction from knowing that they are getting paid handsomely for doing so too.


  • Also, that desk is too tidy, and I don’t believe for a second that he uses that mighty mouse full-time!

  • lee.colwill

    Michael, what time do you get up to get into work?

  • Not only is this a very nice idea and great read but, its good to see that its got people commenting and talking on this blog. It would be nice if it went into more detail ans had photos but, i guess thats to come.
    nice work CR/Build

  • I cant wait to read the article in the Magazine and see some of the work in progress images.

    Ive always wanted to see images of the progress of a certain design piece and see how the designer thinks.

  • I long awaited day off… time to read and reflect… What a great piece, thanks!

  • It’s actually really nice to see the work of a successful designer demystified.

    Heartening, in fact.

    I’ve actually always thought of Michael to be a bit tight lipped and possibly a bit too hip to talk about his work in terms that anyone can understand. It turns out he’s really, really normal. How lovely.

    Startlingly similar to the way I used to work only with a much earlier start.
    Oh, and clients.

    I may – may – even buy a copy of CR this month as I usually don’t find anything in there that I can get absorbed into.

    Will be interesting to see how this feature grows.

    Also it’s nice to see a bit about build that isn’t just his biography and some picture of work we’ve seen before.


  • Also, regarding the earlier comments about CR being for people who know it all, if you know it all then what’s the point of reading a magazine about it?

    Positive move by CR in my eyes.

    If I was still designing I’d have found this really useful.

  • Hannah

    I think it’s really interesting, although it would be good to get some contrast, look at some agencies outside London, like Holland or Germany, or what about Wales, Ireland, there are some really exciting things going on in these areas, I’d love to read about these companies… and see if there is a big difference between how companies from different geographical and cultural backrounds organise their days….

  • snolling

    brilliant idea. do it once a year, or, as a special addendum; a diary from each continent.

    go Michael go – hopefully you’re done by this point: magazineland has such a strange clock.

    thanks guys.


  • Jim

    Why must it be considered inappropriate for a graphic designer to work regular hours? Do you become more creative if you are tired and burnt out? Or is it just that some people are just crap at time management? Or possibly, and sadly, just no life?

  • I actually found this quite interesting. It’s not riveting to read and I’m sure it wasn’t written with that intention, but for anyone reading (like, for example, someone who’s doing a GD course in college like myself), it’s an insight into what a graphic designer actually does. I especially liked the logo designs for Design Museum, which I visited a few months ago.

  • regina keichline

    Would be interesting for a “special section”.

  • lazerboyjay

    I think this is a nice idea personally.
    So sick of all these frigging petty negative designers out there with their handbags always raised, too cool for school etc.

  • sean

    come on guys give him a break,
    theres no need to be so jeleous of where micheal is at now. I think its very interesting to hear just what a designer gets up to since im a student on a ba hons graphic design course and havent the fogiest as to what is hapening out there. its a good insight to me.

  • In a way it’s comforting. I’m not quite shifted into hiring people and being in my own space but have been freelancing about 4 years.. so it’s something i’m starting to think about.. interesting to hear a bit about those choices from mike’s perspective.