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D&AD Meets a former Shifter who's gone from designing retail spaces to campaigns

Charlie McQuade on working for huge brands, turning a passion into a career and finding unique ways to succeed

Munich Games for Sky Creative by Charlie McQuade

From making a low budget music video as a passion project to working on artwork for brands like Sky Originals — 23-year-old Charlie McQuade tells us about how he got his start in the creative industry. 

What does your work as a Digital Designer at Sky Creative involve?

I'm part of a new German team where I create a lot of the artwork for German language Sky Originals, as well as out of home campaigns, and activations. I’ve got artwork for my first series out and published, which is Munich Games, a spy espionage thriller based in Munich. That was a really good piece of original content that I created and got signed off. Friends of mine in Germany have been sending me pictures of it on the subway and stuff which is quite fun. I was previously working at Hogarth Worldwide for a Global tech client, but that was more production design and taking other people’s work and promoting that. At Sky Creative I get to create more original content. It’s more original ideation and commissioning illustrators and working with creatives.

Tell us about your route into the industry?

I was really young when I started reading Computer Arts magazine. It used to be something that was always lying around the house. I’d keep seeing these little characters and illustrations in the magazine, and I’d think, “Oh, wow. So people get paid to make stuff like this, and why has no one ever told me about this?” I had been constantly bombarded by “you've got to be a scientist or you got to be a lawyer” and the idea of design as an interesting career path  was never presented to me. Being from the deep countryside, those kinds of careers and the idea of advertising as a career doesn't really come up in conversations. But I guess from reading those magazines, I saw D&AD come up all the time because they used to collaborate with D&AD a lot.

When I was in sixth form, I was working in a pub, and I saved up enough money to get the lowest Canon EOS camera and just kind of started calling myself a photographer and filmmaker. I went over to America to visit my Uncle Jim in Florida, and we shot a super low budget music video for him (he's a musician). Having that experience gave me confidence, and when I came back to the UK I went round all the bars in my local town with my business card and was like, “Hey, I do social media photography and filmmaking.” That was what got me through sixth form, and saving up to move to London was my goal.

I got into UAL with an unconditional offer, but I was just consciously looking at the books thinking okay, I could do this for a year but after a year, suddenly these costs are gonna completely catch up with me. Then I saw D&AD was doing Shift.

You were part of D&AD’s Shift Program, can you tell us a bit about your experience?

It was the most eye opening experience of my life. I had to move to London from my hometown, so it was a huge change for me to move to a big city. Then being introduced each week to a new creative studio, you’re kind of sitting there like, “Oh my god, this is amazing.” I just remember being very, very happy at the end of it, with all the work that we produced. I don't think I could have wished for a better introduction to the industry.

What was the biggest challenge that you've faced on your career journey so far and how did you overcome it?

I would say that it's knowing when you've outgrown a role or you've outgrown a place and then how to navigate a clean exit from that place and then find your next role. I'd say that's possibly been one of my biggest challenges recently. I was in my previous role for three and a half years, which is a long commitment. If you feel that you haven't, maybe got exactly what you wanted out of that, then it's like it's even harder to say, “I'm not gonna get what I really want out of this place”. You've got to take that on yourself and be like, I've got to now just look out for myself, what's going to make me happy and what's going to make my work the best that it can be.

Being comfortable feels great. But it doesn't produce the best work. There's always got to be something that's really driving you to make the best work and if you're comfortable, you start choosing an easier option than the most creative option. It's knowing when it's time for you to move and knowing that it's absolutely okay to move at any time. And actually, that's the best way to build a career. You go somewhere and say, “I've learned so much from the last place, but I want to learn more with you.”

Can you tell us a bit about the projects you're working on?

Munich Games is a brand new series on Sky One in the UK. It's in German, and in English as well. So it's a bit of a mix, but it's performing really well. The Guardian gave it four out of five stars, which is great to see and it's doing really well on IMDb, which is where the artwork that I produced is. Sky Germany has never had such an ambitious lineup of drama and sport going forward. So we’re drowning in briefs a little bit, which is always a good thing.

What would you say is your proudest work achievement to date?

My partner was just here for the weekend, (she's based in New York), and on our first date, I was very cheesy and wanted to meet at Piccadilly Circus because I had a live work up on that giant curved billboard… It was a very big show-off moment. The audio client I was working with have got the most amazing roster of talent and some really killer products that are coming out and it was a real honour to work with that team.

What advice do you have for someone trying to break into the creative industry?

I think there are so many ways to do something. Find your own unique way of doing it. A lot of people will tell you that there is a certain way that they think is the best way. But if you know your passion is product design, and you love it and breathe it and that is something that you want to do or even if you're just interested in it, find a way to make a portfolio that translates that. I remember seeing that someone's portfolio was a 3D-printed set of cards that you could flip through, with a laser cut acrylic top. I remember thinking, if I could hire someone I'd hire them, immediately. It was amazing, I loved the creativity.

Stick with it, entering this industry can be difficult, you’ll probably find yourself losing creative control of your ideas early on in your career but as you progress you’ll find that you claw back more creative control with each passing project. 

Can you tell us three creatives who are doing interesting work? This is your chance to shout our creatives on the rise.

Ernest ChanEmma Brooke and Jack Eden  

Get in touch with Charlie McQuade here

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