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“I give myself daily reminders to remain realistic, practical, strategic and to not buy-in to ‘grind culture’. Your worth is not measured by your productivity.”

Recently we celebrated five years of Abi – honestly, how did we get so lucky? To commemorate this milestone, we dedicate this blog to her! Sit back and relax as she takes us through what it’s like to be the ‘studio Swiss Army Knife’.

Hey Abi, happy five yeariversary! Can you explain a bit about your role at designdough?

Time flies when you’re having fun, eh? I am the studio manager at designdough, so am in charge of scheduling, time-scales, quoting, making sure our processes are ON-POINT to keep clients and the team happy, and ultimately aiding in running the business. I also head up the brand strategy side of designdough (it’s my baby!) and its growth for the better every day. I’m a bit of an ‘all-rounder’ and have been deemed ‘the studio Swiss Army Knife’ which I think sums it up quite well.

What’s your professional background / what did you do beforehand?

When I left school all I wanted to do was be around art so I enrolled in Cardiff School of Art & Design for a foundation course first, and then went on to study Contemporary Textile Practice. Uni soon made me realise that I didn’t want to be a professional artist myself (my work would never be truly commercial as it was too personal, and I wasn’t in the right head-space to try and push it into galleries) but I LOVED being surrounded by art and creative people. I soon moved into managing art galleries and worked in arts programming, education and administration which gave me an amazing insight into art and creativity AS A BUSINESS. I learnt over the years what worked, and what didn’t, but ultimately I grew unhappy being surrounded by the stifling amount of self-importance and inaccessibility so present in the art world. So I quit. I left behind everything I knew and had built my career on and started afresh, seeing design as the perfect blend of creativity, communication and commercialism. When the job for ‘Studio Coordinator’ came up at designdough, I jumped at it, but I also thought I’d have no chance of getting it!

Do you remember your interview and/or first day? Do you remember how you felt?

Oooooh yes! I was bricking it. I was so used to walking into rooms of people that ‘needed to be impressed to give you their time’ that I went into the studio with my barriers up a bit, but I was met with smiles, a really down-to-earth attitude and the MD swearing in the interview (WHAT!? SIGN ME UP!). It was a totally different environment and I knew I was home straight away. For the record, I thought I bombed the interview and didn’t expect a call-back AT ALL, but the rest is history, as they say.

What’s your role progression been like since you started?

Varied to say the least! As I mentioned above, my start at designdough was a bit of a clean slate for me and I was given the opportunity to shape my role into one that really played to my strengths… it just took me 5 years to realise what my strengths are! The beauty of my progression is that I’ve been able to experience SO MANY different facets of designdough as a business (admin, marketing, quoting, finance, processes, workshopping and strategy to name a few) and so I now have a really holistic view of how it operates, how the team works together and what needs to happen for us to deliver our absolute best on the reg.

Describe your management style in 3 words.

Honest. Empathic. Humorous.

Describe your perfect working day.

Picture this if you will. It’s a Friday (the best days are always Fridays), Covid has pissed off so we’re all back in the studio. The day before, someone suggested bringing pastries and takeaway coffee/hot bevs in for breakfast and they’ve materialised! I spend the morning organising and scheduling, making sure I’m on top of quotes, strategy and the week ahead in general. Even though we’ve pigged out at breakfast someone suggests getting a Pho or Yo Sushi Deliveroo for lunch and. I. AM. PUMPED. The afternoon consists of a team workshop to kick off a new branding and strategy project and we’re all so excited by the research we’ve found and directions we’re taking. We leave the meeting ‘workshop drunk’ (it’s a thing!) and whaddya know, it’s 5pm!

When are you at your most productive?

When I’m inspired and excited about what the guys in the studio, or our clients, are doing – it’s fair to say I live vicariously through their creativity. Seeing a project go from strength to strength, or having a really exciting workshopping session with the team or a client is just the best. Not to forget, always a bit of lo-fi hip-hop/jazz in the background with a cup of tea and maybe a scented candle burning because… y’know… vibes.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Honestly, the most rewarding part is being able to help. That makes me sound super sappy but deep-down, my biggest working passion is making a positive, tangible impact on the way people work. Anything I can do to make it easier, or less stressful or more fun, or more productive/creative, I’m invested in that! I’ve made A LOT of mistakes in my working life, to my own detriment beyond anything else, so having learnt from that (and don’t get me wrong, I still pull some real clangers!) I love helping people to navigate through tricky situations, or just removing as many of the hurdles for them as possible so they can totally kick-ass.

What are your biggest challenges?

Saying no and not over-burdening myself. I’m the first person to get myself into a muddle by taking on too much and over-promising, so the blow of not being able to deliver is crushing. Luckily I’ve done that enough times now to realise that that behaviour is not conducive to being a good studio manager, so I give myself daily reminders to remain realistic, practical, strategic and to not buy-in to ‘grind culture’. Your worth is not measured by your productivity… anyone want to print that on a t-shirt for me?

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt from working here over the past 5 years?

That I can’t do it all and be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE. I’ll go out of my way to help, but sometimes it’s about taking a step back and asking for help. I don’t have to have all the answers – by bringing the team together, being honest and opening up communication, those answers are easier to find together.

What is one of your proudest moments over the last five years?

Honestly, coming back from maternity leave and it feeling like I never left. That’s also a testament to how innately brilliant the designdough team are, but I was so scared about coming back and not being able to live up to my new role, or that having a baby would’ve somehow melted my brain and mean that I wasn’t as valuable a team member; it’s actually been the opposite. Becoming a mum has given me more emotional strength than I ever thought possible and has given me the oomph I needed to stand up and be heard. When you manage a toddler at home, studio management is easy.

What do you look forward to most on your way to work?

General studio piss-taking and banter, and just the team in general. When you love who you work with, it makes your job a hell of a lot easier.

If you weren’t Studio Manager at designdough, what would you be?

In fantasy land – a full-time miniaturist with buyers/clients all over the globe and a waiting list as long as my arm. In reality – it’d have to be another role where I was assisting with the running of a creative business.

You’re on your way to work on a Monday morning, what song comes on as your soundtrack?

Song!? PAH! True. Crime. Podcast or crime/thriller audiobook, please! If I was pushed – it’d have to be Get It On by T.Rex.

On a day held in your honour, what would people have to do?

Stay in their pyjamas all day, eat amazing food, nap throughout the day, and watch horror/crime films or documentaries.

Can’t get enough of Abi? Check out her recent blog on ‘Why Your Brand Needs a Backbone’.