Women In Design feat. Sophie O’Connor

We caught up with Sophie O’Connor as part of our ‘Women In Design Series’, Sophie is a Manchester based senior multidisciplinary designer and brand designer with a passion for typography and strategic design.

The purpose of article series ‘Women In Design’ is to feature, showcase and share the reality of being a woman in design. We gather and showcase stories, career journeys, as well as advice and wisdom.

Could you please introduce yourself as well as your background?

My name is Sophie O’Connor, I am a freelance senior branding designer based in Manchester.

I started my career in 2001 when I had the opportunity to work abroad as part of an international internship through a network of agencies within BBN. I then studied Graphic Arts at John Moore’s University before moving to London in 2006 where I began working for a variety of agencies including Elmwood, Rose Design, Fallon, The Brooklyn Brothers and Saatchi & Saatchi.

In 2011 I joined Mother London as a freelancer before having my first son. After returning from maternity leave in 2012 I joined Mother permanently as senior designer in the main studio. Being part of the culture at Mother was like nowhere else and the quality of work is undeniable. I loved being part of a fast-paced, heavily creative studio.

In 2016 we moved to Manchester where I began working for myself as a Ltd company. I have spent the last seven years working with local start-ups, SMBs and continue to work with global agencies specialising in brand development. In 2021 and 2022 I attended two workshops with Marty Neumeier and Andy Starr as part of their Level C certification in Brand Strategy.

I had my second child in 2018 and then in 2021 I suffered an injury to my hip and had to have major reconstructive surgery in 2022 which meant I was unable to work for ten months. I am now focused on building my business as a branding specialist and am about to launch an online shop selling typographic posters, bringing together my love of typography, print and music. Watch this space!

In an attempt to capture some of the Wisdom you’ve gained as a woman in the design sector so far, what are 5 “stand-out things” you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on to your peers as well as the future generation of talent within your sector?

Five things to pass onto my peers….

1. Always be nice. Someone once told me; you never know who you might meet on the way down so be nice to those on the way up! Especially when working in a studio environment, it’s crucial to be a team player and get along with people even if you don’t always agree. And you won’t always, and that’s okay.

2. Listen. I remember my first critique when I was a junior just starting out was that I was always so excited to get my ideas across that I didn’t always listen properly. Always listen to your mentors, peers, and clients.

3. Never stop learning. Even now after 20 years in the industry, I am constantly pushing myself to learn more and be better. With new software and techniques, it’s hard to keep up but it’s important to understand the changing landscape.

4. Find joy in what you do. Never a truer word spoken than this. If you love what you do then it’s easy to keep doing it and it will show in your work. “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life”

5. Find your Niche. It’s true that in the early days, I worked in a wide variety of agencies and gained an immense amount of experience in many areas but as I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to niche down and specialise. This makes growing as a business and as a freelancer much easier. Plus, you will be recognised for your style of work too.

What is your take on the importance of role models?

I think role models are so incredibly important, even at the most senior level. My first role model was my tutor at college, John Young, who taught me so much and guided me when I had no idea what I wanted to do other than to be a ‘designer’. More recently Errol Gerson and Marty Neumeier have really helped me to grow in business and as a brand strategist.

Pretty much all my ‘design’ mentors have been men, which during my time in advertising wasn’t surprising as I was usually the only woman in the design studio, maybe one of two at most.

Having said that I have worked with some incredible female creatives over the years; Ali Alvarez, Julie Seal, Caroline Pay, Zenia Labropoulou and Louise Sloper to name a few. Thankfully the industry has far more female role models than it did when I started out which is a wonderful thing and certainly more female design directors leading the way.

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