"Never compromise your values, ever" - With the Senior VP of Design at Marks | #GettingToKnow

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Martin Simpson's path into the industry has been far from 'conventional'. Through the many years he spent in the creative and advertising industries, Martin journeyed through a mixture of internal design, management, and marketing roles between retail, direct marketing and brand management. His professional experience is incredibly broad – his purest mindset, unscathed.

Martin believes in integrity and thinks that no creative should ever compromise their own values, no matter the circumstances. Martin's clearly had the chance to learn a lot from the world and the industry he so broadly explored, and it does not surprise us to see that his biggest dream for the industry is diversity and inclusion.

Today, Martin shares his incredibly inspiring story with us below. Keep reading as we are Getting to Know Martin Simpson, Senior Vice-President of Design, Europe at Marks.


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

I look after Marks’ European studios in London, Birmingham, Paris and Amsterdam. 

There isn’t 'one typical day'. There are of course, always many things to deliver: project proposals, creative reviews, agency leadership, operational management, client discussions. Every day presents a different problem to solve.

Perhaps that's why I gravitated to a career in design; the simple joy of defining and solving problems.

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

I'm not sure you'd say my career path into this role has been 'conventional.' I didn't work my way up through the ranks of agency design or client service roles. Far from it, I've journeyed through a mixture of internal design, management, and marketing roles. I've flipped between retail, direct marketing and brand management. I'm a master of no trade but I have an understanding of many. That sometimes left me overlooked against strong specialist candidates.

I think this role was serendipity.

I've known many of the people at Marks for a very long time. I was also a client during my tenure at Tesco. So I already knew the agency well and in turn they appreciated the diverse skills I can bring to bear. We already had shared experiences.

It turned out moving on was a case of right place at the right time. And luck.

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

I'm a Birmingham boy. Born and bred. I haven't ventured far from home.

I am blessed with parents (and a younger brother) who encouraged curiosity as well as an appreciation of science, maths, history, and art.

As kids, my brother and I scrawled great works of imagination across miles of cheap lining paper with equally cheap wax crayon. Experimentation and creativity were indulged by our parents.

That curiosity and appreciation of diversity is something I encourage still, both in my own design practice and in the agency. Diverse views and experience unlocks exciting pathways and opportunities.

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

Amazing question.

In terms of 'win,' I would say my time at Cadbury. I worked there, in the factory in the garden, where my clothes were permeated by the heady scent of chocolate, and we lived by the values of the founding family. People first.

If you cut me, I still bleed purple. I am still people first.

This is where I learned to shape, define and activate brands. The lessons I learned still inform my practice today.

In terms of 'loss’, that is harder. I wouldn't say I have 'lost.' Instead let's say I have succeeded in discovering plenty of ways to not do things. While the misses occasionally mean losing out, you always emerge stronger.

We are all forged in the fires of experience.

What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?

There's a world out there, ripe for exploring. Go see and experience it as others do. Learn from it. Learn from them.

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

There are far too many talented designers out there to put together an exhaustive list. I’m a Birmingham boy so I’ll keep it local (and outside London):

Luke Tongue, Birmingham Design Festival – A typographic maestro. His energy in building a creative community in the Midlands is outstanding.

Rob Coke, Output – The studio always delivers great, brand enriching, and sometimes technology-pushing content.

Spencer Buck, Taxi – Be more fearless.

Shaun Loynds, M3 – He always produces beautiful craft. He’s also a lovely human being.

How has COVID-19 affected you?

At the start of lockdown, I remember wondering how I would survive a few months in the house. My career has involved plenty of travel, I was always going somewhere.

At some point, many of us discovered 'going' was only taking us further away from what mattered. Family.

I've discovered taking the children to school, walks in the park, watching them revel in their achievements. Smiles, giggles, bumps, and tantrums. These things were right under our noses, and up to that point, traded for travel.

I think there will inevitably be a new paradigm. At least I hope there will.

What is your biggest hope for 2021?

That we implement the lessons learned from COVID. Never has there been a greater opportunity to reframe operational practice, ways of working, processes...the last 18 months have been one long working experiment. Not just for the agency but for society.

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

Stay true to yourself. Don't compromise your values. Ever.

How do you recharge away from the office?

Science, history, cinema, table-top gaming. I’m about as geeky you get.

Weekends and holidays should be filled with National Trust, English Heritage, museums and walks through parkland. Evenings are filled with movies and magic.

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

Combining my love of science and history, most likely archaeology. Or maybe an aspiring author with my love of fiction.

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

Diversity and inclusion.

We don't design for ourselves; we design for others. We need diverse skills, views, backgrounds, approaches to form stronger solutions.

Great ideas are not the proprietary property of designers alone. After all, modern physics emerged from a desk clerk, dreaming on a bus on the way into work.

We have some way to go, I think, in truly embracing diversity as designers.

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

‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari – The context that human beliefs and behaviours are tempered by the evolution of the animal we are.

‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Professor Steve Peters - Recognise hard wired behaviours. Learn to step beyond them.

‘Coaching for Performance’ by Sir John Whitmore - The revelation that leading people is not telling them what to do.

‘Bobiverse’ by Dennis E. Taylor - Science fiction’s nicest protagonist. Pure escapism


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