Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Joe Hughes, a product designer from Worcester in the midlands. I’m married with 1 son. I started working at a lighting company in 2007, 2 years after I finished a bachelors degree in Engineering Product Design. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2004, and have had to learn to live with that whilst studying, then navigating a career, then doing both at the same time.
I would class myself as a product or industrial designer, but currently working in an Engineering design role. I love to design and build things, whether they be small projects that take hours, larger projects that take months, or even bigger projects that can take years. I’m currently building a bespoke Shed/Workshop/Office in my garden which I proving to be quite a challenge!
What made you choose this career?
I wanted to be a pilot from an early age, but when I got to High school, I slowly came to the realisation that what I actually enjoyed doing was designing things and then building them. I suppose the childhood love of Lego fed into this, or at least subconsciously led me towards doing something that involves a blank void, and then just using my imagination to fill it with whatever I felt like. I entered a regional Lego competition at around 8-9 years of age, and that was the first time I designed/built something free from instructions and to someone else’s brief. I liked doing it, but also loved the freedom to do what I wanted. I really started taking design seriously around 14 I think, I chose to do both graphics and engineering at GCSE so I could do both 2D & 3D design so I wouldn’t miss out on either thing because I enjoyed doing them equally.
Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey.
Yes I did, I chose to do 2D Graphic Products as my design choice for GCSE, with the additional Engineering subject available as 1 of 2 free choices. I then chose to do DT at AS and A level. After 6th Form, I went to university to study Engineering Product Design at undergraduate. Following that, I took a break from studying, entered the workplace, and went back to do a postgraduate MSc 8 years after undergrad in Industrial Product Design.
Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?
Positive in as much as it broadened my horizons massively. University had never even been discussed at home before my GCSE results came back. Once I was at 6th Form it became a real possibility for me, and looking back now I’m glad I did it, but I think I’d maybe have preferred to have done it in a different way. I was really being pushed to look at apprenticeships, but I just didn’t feel like it was right for me, I was very apprehensive about going down that route.
Who inspires you?
Personally, my Dad. I’ve looked up to him my whole life, he’s so resilient.
Professionally, this is sort of blurry when it comes to design, because I can like individuals, but also like the output of a team, sometimes without knowing the individuals involved.
I grew up loving Jony Ive, and Dieter Rams. For years I really strived to achieve their simplicity in what they put into the world, and still do to a certain extent. I like Yves Behar, some of Phillipe Starck’s work; from a more arty side I like Thomas Heatherwick; and even more arty I love Gaudi. Visiting Barcelona was an absolute revelation for me, it changed my perspective on many things.
What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?
The possibility that I can get to the end of a project and I’ve overlooked something that is a fundamental problem that is solely my fault for missing. That is difficult to get my head around. Less so is having that happen but the realisation coming from above you in the chain of command when you raised the issue months ago…! I’m not sure I can ever overcome it, it’s my job to make mistakes really, but I’ve just got to make sure I make as many as possible, as early as possible. But the main thing to avoid them, I suppose, is effective communication. I’m realising that more and more as my career progresses.
What do you want to change about your industry?
I think the ability to draw people in from different backgrounds is essential to any creative endeavour. If you only have 1 or 2 types of view point feeding in, there’s only a certain number of combinations of outcomes. The more you open up the perspectives at the start, the greater scope for the result at the end. It might take longer, but in my experience, something truly great never gets done quickly. So access for people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives is important in design. But also trying to get decision makers in positions of relative power to be more confident and trust the people they have hired to to their job. That is the one of the biggest, most time-consuming stumbling blocks I experience: getting someone to trust you if they are unsure about something or don’t feel confident to make a choice.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?
This is difficult! Firstly I suppose, is to be completely honest with yourself. Don’t ask what you want to be, but ask what activities you enjoy doing, because you might find there’s a massive cross over with loads of different design disciplines. Ask yourself, do you like working with physical 3 dimensional shapes? Do you prefer the concept generation end of the scale, or idea realisation? Once you’ve been honest with yourself and asked what you prefer, then do the same but about what you are actually good at. Because in my experience, a certain amount of pleasure comes from the thinking, some from the doing, and there definitely has to be some pleasure in seeing a good final result. So knowing what you are good at and knowing where your best final result is, should be key to knowing where to place yourself in the field. But that all starts with being completely honest with yourself.
Other pointers: speak to as many people in your broad field as possible, don’t just listen to one person. Bear in mind that there is rarely 1 right way of doing anything, so cast the net wide at the start of any search. And try to keep an open mind, but that should be second nature if you are already contemplating design as a career!