The 10 commandments of working at a London design agency

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These days, new technologies make it easy to set up a studio anywhere in the UK, and there are plenty of great design agencies outside of London: check out these great Manchester agencies, for example.

But it’s a fact of life that some of the world’s biggest design agencies are based in London, attracting some of the brightest talent from towns and cities around the UK.

So if you’re about to make the leap to the English capital to work as a designer, here are the 10 commandments that you need to follow.

01. Thou shalt feel like a global citizen

Working at a London agency can feel like getting a passport to the global design community. Image: Tuk Tuk Design

The world is constantly shrinking, and wherever you live in Britain these days, you’re part of a diverse multicultural community, right? Well, that’s what you think.

You might feel like the small town you come from is pretty darned globalised, what with its mosque, and two Polish shops, and everything. But London is a whole new ballgame.

You’ll hear dozens of different languages and see every nationality under the sun during your daily Tube journey. Your agency will routinely recruit talent from all over the world, irrelevant of race, religion and nationality. Soon, you’ll be feeling like a true global citizen.

Your thrill at being at the heart of such an internationalised world will be tempered only by one thing: your guilt at being a monoglot, among people who effortlessly switch between multiple languages mid-sentence.

Damn the UK education system, you’ll cry (if you're from elsewhere in the UK), and possibly enrol in Spanish evening classes for a couple of weeks, before getting distracted by something else.

02. Thou shalt attend creative events (and feel smug)

Stroll over to London events and meet your creative heroes

There are tons of creative events happening all the time in London, and it’s wise to take advantage. That’s partly because, like most London designers, you’ll only be able to afford a poky flat, so any excuse to get out and about will become much more appealing.

But it’s also because you’ll recognise the incredible array of opportunities to meet your creative heroes and inspirations, face to face, as equals.

Most importantly, anyone attending the same events from elsewhere in the UK will have spent a sleepless night in an overpriced Travelodge, or will have woken up extremely early. So when you wander in casually, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you’ll be entitled to feel just that tiny bit smug.

03. Thou shalt quickly get bored of famous people

It won’t be long before you’re totally over meeting celebrities. Image: fvoellmer

Meeting your creative heroes in person is one of the best things about being part of London’s creative scene. And at first, it’s also quite a thrill to run into, or even just glimpse, the wider world of celebrity.

Hey, look, David Dimbleby’s in the office chatting to the creative director. Wow, isn’t that Fearne Cotton over there buying a smoothie? Gosh, that guy from Mock The Week just asked if I knew the way to Starbucks.

Pretty soon, though, you’ll realise that celebs are always popping up in London design studios, and elsewhere too. And you’ll join your fellow designers in realising that, actually, they’re just not that interesting.

04. Thou shalt be liberal (or convincingly fake it)

If you’re passionately pro-UKIP, you might want to keep it under wraps at work. Credit: Christian Packenius

In general, people working in any creative industry tend to be left of centre when it comes to social and political issues. But the London design agency scene seems to take this to new heights. It is, to be blunt, quite overwhelmingly liberal.

None of this is ever made explicit, of course. Nobody ever sits you down with a rulebook telling you exactly what you’re allowed to think on everything from gay marriage to drug decriminalisation. But you’ll quickly come to sense what’s going to be an ‘acceptable’ opinion.

So even if, say, you think Michael Gove had some pretty good ideas on education, or that Brexit might not be a bad thing in the long run, it’s probably best you keep that to yourself – at work at least.

05. Thou shalt detest the commute

Everyone complains about the Underground. Except for those in other cities, who don’t have one and think it’s amazing. Image: Free-Photos

If there’s one thing that unites designers more than anything else, it’s their frustration with unreasonable clients. Except, that is, in London. Because here something that’s even more guaranteed to bring creatives together is their hatred of the commute.

If you’ve never lived in the English capital, you might assume that this is a sign that public transport there is inefficient. In fact, it’s the opposite. Because the buses, taxis, underground and overland trains and river ferries (yes, river ferries!) are generally efficient and reliable, the moment a delay occurs, commuters throw their hands up in horror.

In other towns and cities, one service breaking down might mean you’re stuck for hours. In London, however, there’s almost always another route you can take, so the delay to your journey is usually far shorter (albeit more hot and cramped than usual).

Just don’t say any of that to a designer who’s turned up 18 minutes late because of signalling problems on the Northern Line. They won’t thank you for it.

06. Thou shalt walk stupidly fast

Walking fast is one of the most popular London pastimes. Image: Free-photos

Working at any design agency, you’re always in a race against time to get work done to a deadline. But for some reason when you’re working in a London agency, it just feels that little bit more urgent and more important. So, once you’ve lived in London for a while, you’ll mysteriously find yourself speed-walking to work like a person possessed – even if you left the house on time and your train wasn’t late.

And the worst thing? When irritating tourists slow you down with their lazy ambling. You won’t believe they’re SO SLOW.

In truth, though, that’s probably the exact speed you used to walk, before London’s insistent pace burrowed its way slyly into your soul.

07. Thou shalt no longer feel special

Being surrounded by top-flight talent can be a knock to your self-confidence. Image: Geralt

We’re not saying that London-based design agencies are any better or more professional than others elsewhere. But because there are so many top-flight studios in London, working there can sometimes dampen down some of the self-esteem you had as the ‘big fish in a small pond’ in your home town.

It’s not just about other designers, either: it’s also about the other superstars you’ll encounter: the actors, the models, the fashionistas, the writers, the business leaders, whom you’re now much more likely to run into, both in work and socially.

The trick is not to be bitter that some people are doing better than you, but to admire and be inspired by them. And to remember above all, that you’re doing what you love, and that as long as you stay on that path, everything else will eventually fall into place.

08. Thou shalt find it easier to explain what you do

The number of design job titles may be dazzling, but they need explaining here less than in other places

The fact that everyone you meet in London seems to work in a creative field does have some upsides, too. And one of those is when it comes to the question ‘What do you do?'

Tell people back in your home town that you’re a frontend web designer specialising in UX and service design, or that you’re working at the borderlines between mixed reality and Fintech, and you’ll just get blank stares and furrowed brows.

Say the same thing in a hipster pub in Brixton and everyone will nod appreciatively and recognise that you are indeed cool. (Even if they don’t know what you’re on about either, they’ll at least pretend they’ll do.)

09. Thou shalt be exhausted (and a little in denial)

Being tired all the time is the price you pay for a big city lifestyle. Image: Stocksnap

You’re living the dream, working for a cool agency and living in the greatest city on Earth. So why are you so exhausted?

It’s probably because of all the noise and pollution, right? And the London commute, it really takes it out of you. And you’ve been working so hard lately, it really has been manic. Those deadlines have been merciless...

So, nothing to do with all those parties, pub meets and boozy launch events you’ve been to this month. Or all that fast food and wine you polished off in front of Netflix between invites. No, of course not.

10. Thou shalt be addicted to London life

You may mock the tourists, but you love London just as much as they do. Image: Majomka

You’ve only been in London for a couple of years, but you already feel like a native. You describe yourself, out loud, as a ‘Londoner’ and actually get away with it (call yourself a ‘Mancunion’ after two years living in Manchester and you might not be so lucky).

“At this point in my life, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” you muse sagely to your colleagues. Like Samuel Johnson – another outsider who came to London and became one of its fiercest defenders – you’ve come to truly believe that “When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.”

Spoiler alert: in a few years time, when your closest friends (who are also mainly outsiders) move out of London and back to their home towns, you might start feeling very differently.

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