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"Design was always my safe space" - With Digitas UK Head of Design Anna Jehan | #GettingToKnow

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What to do when your personality doesn't match the stereotypes required for a successful career? You keep going.

Anna Jehan was recently appointed as the Head of Design at Digitas UK, and she admits spending some of her early career struggling with the expectations of a design role. After meeting a number of incredibly talented professionals and leaders, however, Anna realised that there is no "one way" to lead in the industry and that you should always aim to be your most authentic self. Her honesty and humilty should be of great inspiration to many figures in the industry, often losing track of what really matters: being human and changing the world with our creativity.

Today we are Getting to Know the new Head of Design at Digitas UK, Anna Jehan, to learn more about her path in the industry, and to hear about her greatest hopes for the future of design.

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Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?

I’m awaiting my first day at my new role, however primarily it will mean being responsible for the high level of craft and the quality of design output at Digitas. Growing and developing the team, supporting their development and tackling the challenges of our clients and their audiences alike.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

Design was always my safe space. I understood it and I knew I had the skills and passion to get a design to work, but what I found a real challenge was the next step; figuring out how and what type of leader or manager I wanted to be, getting the right balance. I found there are a set of stereotypes for this type of role that my personality just didn’t match, and for a while I felt that meant I struggled to reflect it. However, having met some incredibly talented creative leaders from all walks of life throughout my journey I’ve realised there is no ‘one way’ and I should use my characteristics to my advantage.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

From a very young age I had known I loved making and creating, and thanks to both my parents, who could turn their hand to anything from woodwork to textiles, I had no end of encouragement. I studied Graphic Design with an incredible set of tutors at Swansea who gave us the opportunity to try every aspect of design. I then completed the usual tour of internships and landed a role at a digital creative agency. As I got to grips with the world of designing for tech and digital I realised I could combine my crafted typography and graphic skills with a love of problem solving and unravelling what makes people tick.

What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?

When I turn something that I always loved from a hobby into my career I need to remind myself why I started and that means many side projects! Sometimes you need the freedom to just create, without a brief, allowing you to explore and often remember skills you forgot you had. Whether that be making coffee tables out of oak trees, ceramics or illustrating the adventures of my dog and his friends on @park_life_stories. I rediscover my creative passion every time I get stuck in, whether they are a success or not!

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I genuinely find I get lifted and filled with inspiration every time I visit a graduate show or sit down with a junior member of the team or an intern. I find it incredible, the passion, the knowledge and the speed they are able to work at! They are always filled to the brim with ideas and can’t wait to take on any challenge.

I’m always reluctant to list specific heroes as my growth and development has been inspired by the fantastic teams I’ve worked with, as well as my friends within the creative industries who are always pushing me to strive for more and a wonderful coach. These have all guided me through the last few crazy years.

I will say however, if there is ever a talk held by Erik Spiekermann I make sure I attend. Aside from the fact he has created some of the most memorable brands and designs, his love of typography is infectious, and he has a studio filled with working original Heidelberg letterpress machines!

How has COVID-19 affected you?

COVID-19 was obviously an awful time for many people, but personally it forced me to slow down, consider what was important and what made me happy. Having previously been in a role where I travelled all the time, I secretly enjoyed being pinned to one spot for a time. Having said that, I can’t wait for my next trip away on holiday now! 

What is your biggest hope for 2021?

Aside from hoping that the world can get back to normal I hope we don’t revert completely back to our old ways. I hope we remember the moments of respite our environment has had during the last year while we were all stuck in our homes. I hope the powers that be take note of climate change and start acting on it.

What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Question the brief, question the client, question the audience. If it seems something isn’t clear or doesn’t make sense, then it probably means it needs a new way of looking at it!

How do you recharge away from the office?

Over the last few years I’ve found a real love for boxing and there’s nothing more satisfying after a long day at work than trying not to get punched in the face! I also love getting out of the city, walking my dog and spending time with my family and friends.

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

I have a feeling I would be a teacher in either music or history. I play both the piano and trumpet and I’m obsessed with the weird and random facts you discover about obscure figures in history! I always remember my history teacher Ms Hayden had a knack for telling stories and her passion brought the moments to life.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

That gender, culture or origin have no relation or impact on your career. That opportunities allow creative leadership to be wholly balanced allowing us to cultivate a more diverse range of voices across all creative industries.

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

A couple of great books that have been recommended to me and ones I love include:

  • The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
  • Mary Portas Work Like a Woman, A Manifesto for Change
  • Principles By Ray Dalio

And finally for a bit of satisfyingly quirky inspiration @accidentallywesanderson on Instagram never fails to bring a smile to my face. 

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