Within the confines of this very interview with designer extraordinaire, Rick Raby, you will find the first and only time that AHOY is described as the “1Xtra of design agencies”. Plus, if you ever thought the weird burger restaurant trend was dying out, apparently Rick is the guy keeping them in business!
What was it that brought you to AHOY originally, because you’re straight out of uni, right?
That’s right, yeah. From the university degree show, which I worked on the branding for, we came round to various agencies to give out invites and try to get people in industry to come to the show. From that, Dave got in contact with a couple of people from the university, and he ended up speaking to me. I came in for a placement for a couple of months not long after that, and before I knew it, I was offered a full time position.
You had quite an interesting way of getting our attention as well, if I remember rightly – you did something pretty creative, didn’t you?
We sent out quite a lot of bottles of beer, yeah.
Always a good move!
Yeah, it’s always a good icebreaker isn’t it? Even if it was a bit of a hassle carrying 50 odd bottles of beer around town…
The beer bottles were all labelled weren’t they, with the agency branding on?
Yeah, all the invites and beers were personalised to the agency and because we were uncovering talent, we covered up the agency name on each bottle – which was consistent with the identity we created. We essentially took the branding of each agency and made it fit within ours.
Did you do have any other placements before you came to us?
Yeah I had previously done two placements before here. Basically the way my higher education was structured meant that I started with a 2 year foundation degree, then did two placements – one at Future Design Consultancy in Warrington, and then one at Viv-id in Manchester. Finally, I joined Stockport College to finish off the last bit of my degree.
How does the AHOY working atmosphere differ from the other agencies you have done placements at?
Its a very unique environment, from my experience and the experience of some others, you can stereotype a lot of agencies into what I would call a ‘6 Music’ agency – by that I mean it’s nice music on in the background all day and everyone sits very quietly and politely. AHOY is a little different to that.
We’re a bit more ‘1Xtra’ would you say?
Yeah, Trevor Nelson all the way! No, what I would say is that it’s much more easy-going. It’s a more immediately familiar environment to be in, because when people are comfortable, they spend less time second guessing themselves about whether or not they’re doing their job properly – it’s a much better working atmosphere, I think.
Do you feel like you are trusted to get on with your job? That there isn’t too much micro-management and monitoring? It’s certainly the case at some agencies that account handlers are on your case and watching over you at all times.
Yeah I’d say so – people are a lot more hands off, but in a good way, you are absolutely trusted to do your job, and to do it well. Everyone was hired for the full extent of everything they can do, rather than just to do their role to the letter. That ethos only gets you so far – it’s not something that pushes the agency forward, you need to be able to help out with and contribute to as much as you can.
What does an average working day look like for you?
An average working day is an hour and a half train journey to get here from the not-so-exotic Warrington and the many not-so-exotic train stations along the way. I usually get here about 9, check through my emails and because I’m still a junior, the rest of the day changes completely from one day to the next. I get to work on quite a broad spectrum of projects, from assisting with pieces of artworking for some of the senior designers, working on pitch documents or looking after my own brands and clients. I deal with a lot of what AHOY do in quite small doses, really.
Plus, you’ve had cases where you have had your design work placed alongside the senior designers’ work, right? Like in pitch documents and so on?
That’s true, yeah. There is absolutely no sense of senior designer work getting prioritised over mine, or that their work should carry more weight than mine for whatever reason. It’s more a sense of “these are the routes that AHOY have done” rather than “these are the routes that AHOY’s senior designers have done” – we all get behind each other’s routes, and whoever wins, wins!
So is it fair to say that you don’t really feel like there is a divide between a junior like yourself, and the senior designers like Matthew, Alex and Jason?
That hierarchy does exist on paper, which is absolutely right, but it’s never something that comes across day to day – there’s definitely a feeling of equality, because we’re all equally capable of doing our jobs, the only difference between us is years of experience under our belts.
Which of our clients are you most excited to be working with?
I would say the two that are my current favourites would be ShinDigger and We Are Stockport. I say We Are Stockport because I went to Stockport College and I know from previous experience that people have come back to the College and given talks after they have been out in the industry.
The position I’m in means I’m probably likely to be going back to College to give a talk to the latest batch of design students in the next 2 or 3 years, and when I do go back, I’ll have done a big piece of branding for the town. It’s great for my portfolio, but it’s so rewarding to be able to go back and lay claim to branding that will hopefully be quite prevalent by that point. It’s my “see that brochure? I did that” kind of moment, I suppose!
It’s just a really good brand to work on, it’s one of those where there is a lot of creative freedom and I guess I fall into their target market. When you’re part of a target market and in contact with it, it’s like that extra bit of motivation and enthusiasm to do a great job.
Do you have any nice or interesting stories to tell from your time here?
The first one that comes to mind is based on a project I had done for ShinDigger, they wanted a poster to promote or introduce the brand to customers in bars and pubs. We sent over my work and received an email back saying “that’s class!”.
Wait, that’s really all it said?
Yep, just that. Short and sweet but it was good to know we had nailed it first time for them and they loved what I’d done!
How did you get into design?
By accident, which I guess is what a lot of people have been saying! Anyway, before I joined sixth form, I really wanted to go into motorsport engineering because I was a massive car fan. I was really into F1, touring cars – that sort of thing. Problem was, at AS Level I failed Maths, which basically eliminates all hope of an Engineering degree. I’d already taken Graphic Design though, more as a “try it and see how it goes” fourth option more than anything else. I was fully expecting to drop it after a year, but I ended up getting an A at AS Level, so I carried on with it and started developing a real passion for it.
If you started off thinking you were going to be an engineer, do you not really consider yourself to be tremendously creatively inclined?
Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t say that I was creatively inclined – or at least I wasn’t initially. That said, I don’t think design is necessarily all about creativity. Take branding for example, really when it comes down to it, a large part of branding is about systems – it’s why we tend to describe brands as atmospheres. Creativity is important, don’t get me wrong – that initial spark of an idea needs to come from somewhere – but there is an awful lot of logic. You need to work out how something is going to work, and that’s the sort of thing that really switches me on.
So would you argue that design is always more about function than form?
Very much so yeah!
You mentioned earlier that you commute from Warrington, are you from Warrington originally?
I am indeed.
How do you find working in Heaton Moor?
It’s a nice change. Warrington is, like all satellite towns, good to commute to and from, but not always amazing to live in, although there definitely are some really places in Warrington. Heaton Moor is a lovely leafy suburb though and a really nice place to be.
You said you did a placement at Viv-id, who are based in the city centre – would you say it was at all disadvantageous to be a little further out of town?
No not at all, it’s a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Manchester. There are advantages to being in town but I’m someone who works best in a relaxed environment and Heaton Moor is certainly that.
What’s the best piece of industry or work-related advice you’ve ever received?
It would be tricky to pick out a bit of advice that I have actually been given, but one thing I generally try to remember is from a poster by Anthony Burrill which just says “work hard and be nice to people”. There are so many clichés when it comes to design advice, but that mantra is so simple and such a positive message – it’s a great one to live by, and that’s for anyone – not just designers.
On the flipside, what’s the worst piece of advice you have received?
Anything to do with tea!
Are there any strings you’d like to add to your bow, anything else you want to know more about?
I was having a think about this over the weekend, actually. Throughout college I always enjoyed screenprinting – letterpress and stuff. Eventually I would like to work with 3D printing but still within a graphical medium. The record cover used to always be the thing a designer loved to do, then a poster, now everybody wants to design a wine bottle, but for me I just love posters – they’re amazing! If I could bring 3D printing and posters together then I think that could be something really, really special.
So outside of work, are there any albums that you are raving about at the moment?
Well I am quite into drum and bass but I tend to only listen to that when I’m in the gym or up against a very tight deadline in the studio. More often than not, I’m listening to more chilled out stuff – at the moment I’d say Huxley and Flying Lotus, and I’m still listening to Diplo’s album from just over ten years ago, Florida.
What is your favourite night out spot?
I am very partial to burgers! I know people are tired of the burger craze, particularly in Manchester, but I can’t get enough of it!
So out of Manchesters many burger places – which is the best?
Almost Famous, without a doubt – which is a boring answer, isn’t it?
I’ll let you off because you’re the one person that didn’t mention the Northern Quarter as your favourite night out spot! What TV series or film do you recommend to people, and please don’t say Sons of Anarchy?
There’s two I’d recommend. With the first, I don’t know why, but I’ve watched a lot of The Big Bang Theory. I reckon – stop sighing now Jonny – I reckon I could watch most of the episodes and mime along to them, which is pretty sad.
My other recommendation would be a show called Inside Number Nine, which was on last year I think. It’s a dark comedy that comes at things in a very different way. They try to do full episodes without talking at all…
And that’s actually funny, unlike The Big Bang Theory?
No, no, it is honestly!