Inspiration

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Member spotlight - Curiosity and empathy with Cheddar Creative’s Yasmin Willis

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Cheddar Creative is a creative agency with a difference. They deal in campaigns that are unorthodox, engaging and create innovative user experiences peppered with moments of delight. They deal is creative that is crafted to inspire trust, credibility and positive word-of-mouth.

More importantly, however, they are fronted by none other than the subject of today’s spotlight, one Yasmin Willis. We caught up with Yasmin to delve into the history of Cheddar Creative, her own personal creative journey and everything in between.

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Where are you from and how did you get into the industry?

I'm from Colchester, Essex – about 45 minutes from London. I wanted to be a designer from a very young age, so throughout school and college I was focussed on achieving that goal and went on to do a graphic design degree. At that point, I had no idea of the amazing variety of roles available in the industry. 

My first job in the industry was actually as a Web Project Manager and that's when my love of UX, web and digital product design really began. I soon moved into a design role, working primarily on digital products (with some branding and graphic design mixed in here and there) and the rest is history. 

I'd never seen myself as typically “creative” and I used to feel like a huge fraud because of it, but once I started mapping user journeys and nerding out over UI minutiae and micro-interactions, I realised a blend of creativity and logical thinking can be a powerful mix when designing for technology.

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

I’m the Creative Director and Co-Founder of Cheddar Creative, a creative agency focussing primarily on UX, web and digital design while delivering creative problem-solving workshops to help businesses find solutions to difficult problems. We’re based in Suffolk and North Essex, but have clients all over the place.

Explain your creative style and process

The most important factors for me in designing any product is to fully understand what the client and their customers are driven by, what they need and what problem they’re trying to solve, and how they feel at each touchpoint in their interaction with the business. 

I like to speak personally with clients and their users whenever possible as I believe a lot can be learnt that way, especially in terms of delivering delight. I also like to back up decisions with data where possible. 

In short, I’d say my process mostly revolves around curiosity and empathy; by truly understanding the people involved and what you’re designing and why, you’re far more likely to nail the brief first time and create something that provides value and enriches people’s lives.

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Please provide one sentence about your spotlighted work on Creativepool

The Society for All Artists (SAA) – the world’s biggest art community – approached us to totally overhaul the ‘Community’ area of its website, which involved months of UI and UX design exploration (which we will continue to expand upon) to ensure SAA members can showcase themselves as well as find other artists and resources with ease!

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

Technology plays a huge part in the way I work. I’m a big believer in lifelong learning and we’re a small team, so I make sure to keep up with the latest tools, trends and techniques that will allow me and my colleagues to work in the most efficient way possible. 

This includes the software I use to produce work through to planning and communication tools that allow us to work remotely and collaborate with anyone in the world! Throughout my career, I've never been afraid to learn new things, adopt new tools and change my way of working to suit the requirements of the project. 

I think having a growth mindset is tremendously important, especially in this industry that seems to change so fast. If your processes aren’t constantly evolving with technological advances, you'll probably be left behind! 

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

I would like to see the industry becoming more collaborative. With today's gig economy, there are more and more business owners and freelancers competing for attention, but instead of competing, I'd love to see more specialists collaborating to produce work more amazing than they could have made alone. 

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What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Always be on the lookout for inspiration (you never know where you’ll find it) and don't burn out! This might sound obvious, but to stay inspired it's important to pay attention to things that excite and interest you, whether that's browsing projects on Creativepool (shameless plug), following other creators, reading books and articles, listening to inspirational podcasts and audiobooks, watching Netflix (#sorrynotsorry), or simply looking out of the window. 

These things will spark new ideas and new (and sometimes, unexpected) ways of thinking that will help keep you motivated and moving forward. It's also important for me that I plan downtime. Forcing yourself to be creative is sometimes a recipe for disaster and having time away from your work is often exactly what you need to break the creative block and get things flowing again.

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

It would probably be something outdoorsy. I've always loved the idea of running an outdoor activity centre – maybe it's all that time I spend staring out the window!? Either that or something to do with psychology.  I'm fascinated by what drives human behaviour and emotions, as well as issues around mental health and wellbeing, and how design, creativity and technology can be used to combat these increasing pressures.

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

Taking the leap into self-employment and building a business from scratch that’s going from strength to strength has been quite an achievement in itself. We're only just two years in and already being recognised for our ethos, culture and design thinking approach, including an award from small business champion Theo Paphitis

That was lovely and unexpected, and I don’t mean to sound trite, but I’m most proud of the way we’re able to help fellow business owners bring their hopes and dreams to life and hopefully do some good in the world. 

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How do you recharge away from the office?

Outside of work, you’ll normally find me bouldering, swimming, paddle boarding, drawing, hanging out with friends and family, and generally trying to find new and interesting experiences to keep me out of mischief. Recent obsessions include (but are not limited to) trampolining, mountaineering, escape rooms and VR games. Having time away from work to recharge is extremely important and I believe it makes me more focussed, my work more interesting and the outcomes far better, so it’s a win-win-win really! 

What advice would you give to other aspiring creatives in the industry who are looking for commissions?

Keep putting yourself out there and find a way of narrowing down who you're talking to and define your target audience. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Social media can be a great platform for that, but it's becoming harder and harder to stand out. My advice would be, have something to say. It doesn’t have to be really profound (or even particularly well-executed), just something you care about, delivered in your own unique voice. 

If you can create something that genuinely sets you apart from everyone else and find creative ways to get that work in front of the right people, you’ll be creating valuable equity in your personal brand. Once you've landed a commission or two, word-of-mouth referrals are key, so focus on doing the best job possible and don’t be an arsehole. 

What’s your one big hope for the future of the creative industries?

I hope the creative industries continue to grow and evolve with emerging trends, and stop being seen as a luxury that gets cut as soon as a bit of economic uncertainty rears its ugly head! 

Big ideas and creativity are what will help us solve the wicked problems the world (both the business world and the actual world) is going to face in the years ahead, so design definitely needs a bigger seat at the table. Preferably, a comfy Eames lounge chair! 

With this in mind, I’d love to see the importance of creativity being emphasised more in education – for the sake of human enjoyment as well as scientific discovery and invention! 

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