Sam Harrison begins by sharing with me how his sister, who is a stylist, helped paved the way for him to pursue a creative career, along with his parents who nurtured their children’s passions and encouraged them both to study whatever they wanted at school as well as university. Unsurprisingly, Sam expresses how much the support for his parents made a difference in helping the siblings become the creatives they find themselves to be today.
After having been born and bred in the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire, Sam went on to live in Liverpool for nearly ten years, where he went to go to university then make his mark as a freelance graphic designer. In the time between, living in Lancashire and moving to Liverpool, Sam spent many years learning his practice and broadening his expertise. He began by going to study Fine Art at school in Blackburn, where “I got my first taste of creativity through my passionate art teacher.” He recalls just how great his teacher was at pushing the small art department and its students to realise that art was indeed a valid path to go down once leaving school, if only there were more people with influence like Sam’s teacher spending the word in the way he did.
... this gave me the kick up the arse to get into the studio every day bouncing ideas from tutors and students.”
“Studying Fine Art was what gave me the basis of starting my career as a designer, despite not knowing it yet… I almost went straight off to art school in London but at the time, I wasn’t ready. I felt I wanted to test the water and see what else was out there. I did an Art Foundation at Manchester Metropolitan University for a year, which was eye-opening and it’s where I got my first taste for graphic design”. The foundation course left no stone unturned and allowed the students to work on pretty much whatever they wanted.
Although he found himself happy in Manchester, he felt it was still little too close to home and so he decided to attend a Liverpool John Moores University open day when he found out that the university offered a highly recommended design programme. “I applied and was accepted on to the course and it was here where I studied Graphic Arts,” he recalls. “I failed my first year. I was shell shocked and I came to realise how lazy I had been during the course, and this gave me the kick up the arse to get into the studio every day bouncing ideas from tutors and students. It was there that I learned to open my work up to criticism which was a steep learning curve but it gave me a buzz and was what made me love my second and third year”.
Fresh out of university, Sam did what every student does and flooded the inboxes of studios asking for a job or an internship in the hope of getting a reply. “This went on for ten months then I got my graduate job at an agency, and started at Think Publicity in 2012. It was a great learning experience; they threw me in at the deep end and I learnt a lot in the three-and-a-bit years I was there”. He then moved on to SB Studio where he improved his skills and began to understand the power of great design: a tool to educate, inspire or drive people and change.
Learning to say something as simple as ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ means the studio supports you and vice versa.”
Now with a number of years of experience under his belt, he decided to take the leap into the world of freelancing. “It was a scary step to take,” he explains “but the industry contacts and relationships that I’ve formed since starting out have been a huge help in winning jobs and expanding my network”. Along with good relationships, he also carries with him sound advice that was once given to him by his university lecturer, ‘make it look f**king beautiful’ and that he does. His lecturer was another person in Sam’s life who talked passionately about design which was what inspired him to work harder, he reflects.
Another piece of advice that has stuck with him was to ‘remove the ego’. During his time working at agencies, Sam admits to finding it hard to embrace the studio culture as a whole as he couldn’t claim the work to be his own, it was rather a collective output. “Learning to say something as simple as ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ means the studio supports you and vice versa. In turn, I’m now much more likely to ask for help. This was a difficult thing for me to get used to at first because I felt I had to know everything, but if you don’t ask for help, you’ll never learn anything new.”
On the topic of learning something new, I ask Sam how he keeps on top of what’s new in the industry and what his main sources of inspiration are for him and his work. “The internet has overtaken books as my main source of inspiration and means of keeping up to date with the industry,” he answers. “Its Nice That is a favourite of mine for its broad spectrum of areas and topics it covers, and the ways it looks to help creatives with its programmes of events, articles and sister websites such as Lecture In Progress. Then for some visual inspiration, I head over to Dribbble, Visuelle, SiteInspire and Pinterest.”
“As much as I dislike the cliches, it’s true that having that balance means I no longer sweat the small stuff and I have more time to dedicate to my life outside the office...”
And when these platforms can not suffice as inspiration, he takes a break. “Something as simple and getting up out of my chair and having a change of scenery can help massively,” he shared. “From experience, the worst thing you can do is stare blankly at a screen and stay quiet. Printing the work off and putting it on the wall and having a small crit can help to see it through another person’s eyes and re-ignite the project”.
Talking to Sam is encouraging. It feels like the teachings of those who have played an important role in his life and his career has led him to create a bank of a wisdom which includes his own, and it’s all insight that future generations can benefit from and undoubtedly will.
As for what success looks like to him, he shares how at this point in his life he feels successful and that in a sense that he finally has a ’work-life balance’ that he’s happy with. “As much as I dislike the cliches, it’s true that having that balance means I no longer sweat the small stuff and I have more time to dedicate to my life outside the office and its greatly impacted on the quality of work I’m producing for the better”, which means he now able to spend his time with his girlfriend, travelling to new places and visiting those he loves most; his family and friends.