How Creative Director Matt Rooke made it through a recession

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There's no doubting that the COVID-19 crisis is affecting several corners of the industry in more or less similar ways. A lot of professionals, even beyond the actual creative industry, are talking about one of the worst recessions of the past 100 years or so. Fortunately, we have the stories of who came before us to guide our steps.

Creative director Matt Rooke is definitely one of them. Leaving university during a recession, he quickly realised that no one wanted to hire graduates back then and had a pretty rough time getting into the industry. But just like that, with perseverance, determination and ambition, Matthew did it. And he has a good lot of advice for all creatives in the current crisis.

For this Member Spotlight we are learning more about the life of a professional who never gave up, simply by slightly broadening his options and by finding alternative ways to tackle a much heartfelt issue: wanting to do a job he loved.


How did you get into the industry?

I left design college during a recession, which meant that no agency was interested in hiring newbies. So I broadened my options and landed a job at a reprographics company. It wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but at least it was a step in the right direction.

Ultimately, it turned out to be a good move. I was learning on the job and, even better, I was meeting designers, studio managers and creative directors on a daily basis and fortunately for me, one of those offered me a job in their creative department.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I’m based in Birmingham, it’s my hometown and an amazing city. The people, the place, It’s always changing, adapting and reinventing. Plus, we gave the world Black Sabbath, End of story.

I split my work between agencies and direct clients. Both come in all shapes and sizes, so one week I’m helping an agency on a global pitch, the next I’m rebranding a chain of gyms. It keeps things interesting.


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’d love to own a gallery. The idea of being surrounded by art and giving the space a new purpose every month would be awesome.

But if it had to be something completely different, I’d operate a mountain bike trail centre. And spend a lot of time in A&E.

Can you explain your creative process?

It varies depending on the type of project and budget really, but on a macro level, I start by identifying concept territories, then I explore ways to execute them and I finish by refining the ones that best answer the brief.

I know that’s sounds a bit reductive, so in more practical terms (some or all of) the following steps seem to work for me.

I always highlight the most salient parts of the brief to help me focus and conserve the mental energy of constantly searching for them in the copy.

Oddly, for a visual creative, I often start by writing things out. In marketing campaigns, this might be exploring different ways to write the proposition and in branding it might be some words on brand rationale. It’ll probably all change but finding ways of describing what it could be, paints a vivid picture, and that’s a great place to start.

Once I have a territory, I start cross-pollinating visuals, words and media through that lens. Sometimes the line from a book I’m reading can inform a branding piece just as a product material can influence a retail space. If I’m mining unexpected places for elements, then the resulting idea often shares the same qualities.

When designing anything, I always start ‘hot’ – exploring ideas fast and loosely, often duplicating semi-finished pieces so I can explore something else that just came to mind. This works for me because it removes the pressure of perfection, and at the end I have loads of ideas with a clear, progressive thread, running through them.

If I get stuck I play a game of ‘what if’, entertaining scary and stupid questions like “What would a surrealist do?” or “What if I turned ‘it’ on its side?”. This not only resets my creative outlook, but it often delivers unexpected results.

If I’m really stuck I’ll ‘take a breather’ which can mean going for a walk, doing something totally different or parking the job for a day. In my experience, a problem always looks easier first thing in the morning rather than late at night.


How has technology affected the way you work (if at all)?

Using a Wacom has changed my work in a big way. I find that my illustration and Photoshop work has improved and looks more natural. Wacom have it all
dialled-in - I love their gear.

I also bought an iPad Pro and an Apple pencil last year. I use Procreate, Adobe Fresco and Affinity Pro to explore illustrative ideas. I love using it, and its increasingly becoming an essential part of my workflow (But will NEVER replace a layout pad and N60!!!!)

On a macro scale technology enables me to work for anyone, anywhere in the world. And platforms like Creativepool connect me to those clients, as well as a wider creative community that I can benefit from when in need and, more importantly, contribute to, to help others.


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

I’m a bit of a sponge, absorbing everything from art to literature, music to tech, all of which will feed into my work at some point. If something new appears on my radar, and I like it, I want to know the story and the people behind it, so I’ll dig down a bit further. These stories and details inspire me to go outside of my comfort zone on projects and hobbies. Plus, seeing people create, reminds me that I need to do the same to stay happy.

How do you recharge away from the office?

I recharge by disconnecting. I draw, paint and write a bit, and when I’m not doing that I spend time with my family and friends. Sometimes that’s on a mountain bike trail and sometimes it’s sitting in a pub or coffee shop. It doesn’t matter where, so long as I’m with good people, with good energy, then life’s all the better for it.


What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

Be a doer. More comes from doing something than it does from waiting for something. Make a list of things you want to achieve in your creative life, and start doing things that will get you closer to achieving them. Good things will come from this and the more you do the more opportunities will start appearing. Oh, and try not to worry about making mistakes. If you’re making mistakes you’re doing stuff, and that means you’re on track to achieving your goals - so just keep doing what you’re doing.


If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

Over my 25 years in the industry I’ve seen too many people and places treat creative as a commodity, a quantifiable ‘widget’ on a production line. As such they don’t involve creatives in early decision making and simply hand over a perfunctory brief with an imminent deadline. I don’t think this is a structure for success.

I think creativity is our industry's strongest asset. That ability to think differently, to deliver something emotional, engaging and stimulating, surely that’s worth cultivating and improving - because, ultimately, it will improve results and that all- important bottom line.

So I’d like to see creatives involved more widely in the early stages of projects, part of planning and brief writing. I’d like to see teams coming together to assess every stage of a project, not just the creative output. I think the result would be a stronger, galvanised team, with genuine attachment for the work. And that can only be good for our industry.


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