The nomadic designer

How Daniel Cooper kick-started his design career by hitting the road

Graduating from university can really be a mixed bag of emotions, from excitement and relief, to worry and despair. I recently finished studying, and over the last few months I ricocheted between these feelings with bipolar precision.

Towards the end of my course, everything began to move at an incomprehensible pace. Prioritising things became a real struggle as I endured many all-nighters in an attempt to get my work done, on top of worrying about what I’d like to do after university and my impending final major project – this would count towards half of my overall grade, as well as become the piece I’d exhibit at the summer degree show. No pressure, then.

I approached the project knowing this could be the last project I’d have complete direction over in quite a while, so I decided that I’d like to gain as much experience within the design industry as possible within a few short months. I’d already spent a summer working in Amsterdam for a company that specialised in urban interventions, as well as had a stint at Comic Relief working on next year’s campaign ideas for young adults. But it didn’t feel enough.

While in Amsterdam, I fell in love with European design and the fresh attitude of Europeans towards briefs. And after a bit of research, I found a few articles in The Economist about nomadic work practices and the rise of the ‘techno-nomad’. These individuals don’t base themselves in a location – rather, they rely solely on a laptop and internet connection to do their work. The location becomes secondary as the designers become self-sufficient through technology. This is a relatively new trend, made possible by the vast opportunities at our disposal that enable us to connect with others.

I began to call myself a ‘nomadic designer’ and contacted studios across Europe looking for work. There was a one-month window for me to travel, so I proposed that in exchange for two days of work, I’d like their professional mentoring and advice. People seemed extremely receptive to the idea, and I managed to score a lucky break in meeting an integrated communications agency based in Soho that offered me the chance to be part of its Inspired by Iceland campaign, and asked me which Icelandic designers I looked up to.

Within a couple of weeks, I was sat with my backpack on an Icelandair flight to Reykjavik. I met with product designers, architects and graphic designers, and completed short briefs that challenged what I could achieve in a day or two. From then onwards, I flew from the most westerly point of Europe to the most easterly as I landed in Istanbul to work with a design studio called Bravo Istanbul.

The culture shock in flying from Reykjavik to Istanbul was indescribable: the two places are poles apart. From then onwards, I lived out of my backpack and jumped between trains as I worked my way back to the UK. The journey became an exercise in organisation as well as in networking, both aspects of which I had to do on-the-go thanks to the ad-hoc nature of the project. In most cases, I’d leave my last day of work with one studio, find a night-train and wake up at my next destination.

My project saw me working in Belgrade, Zurich, Berlin, Copenhagen and Amsterdam after I left Istanbul. It became as much about the journeys between these destinations as it did working within the different studios. Within a short period, I gained experience in all aspects of design, from typesetting and publishing, to advertising and city planning.

The project finished and I flew back to London, pretty surprised that I had pulled it off and completed what I initially set out to do. When it came to graduating, I was far more confident in my future prospects – and within two days I began work with one of my favourite studios in London, Boat Studio. It’s a nomadic design studio that uproots itself every six months to create a publication about a city with an untold story. Now we’re working towards the next issue of Boat Magazine, which is based in Athens. So hopefully, if all goes well, it’ll be another stamp in my passport.

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