Gift of the Gabberer: Lauren Pleydell-Pearce
Lauren Pleydell-Pearce scored her first design gig in Sydney, before upping sticks and heading for the UK. Her career has gone from strength to strength, including stints at Razorfish, Wunderman and now as ECD at PwC UK. Meanwhile, she has consistently contributed to the development of the industry, as an active mentor and awards judge with D&AD, Effies, Creative Circle and more. Lauren is a born optimist. Here we find out how she does it.
J: There’s a line in your bio that refers to designers as inherently optimistic. Why do you think that is?
L: I believe designers are creative problem solvers, inherently trying to ‘fix’ the world around us — whether that is through products and services, experiences, ways of thinking, space, furniture, films, the list goes on.
We’re always on a mission to create something more beautiful, more enjoyable, and more useful.
Being creative and being a designer is also a labour of love — and damn hard work sometimes. Julie Zhuo, Product Design VP @ Facebook, summed it up nicely: “What looks like genius is actually the result of brute force.” So if you’re not driven by the love of what you do and a belief that that there must be a better way, there isn’t a chance in hell you’d ever make it through the mayhem. So what other choice is there?
J: What fuels your optimism?
L: I prefer to believe with the application of our creative thinking and our skills as designers, we have in our hands the capability to make every moment in life more beautiful and usable, whether that is as an employee in customer service, or as the customer enjoying an experience in their day to day lives.
This will sound cliched but life is too short to look at the world pessimistically — spending it focused on what isn’t working — when we all have the skills to improve the world around us and make it a better place for customers, employees, consumers, and citizens.
J: The pace of design and ad agencies is pretty intense. How do you keep morale high with your team?
L: It can be intense, but it doesn’t have to be — at least in the traditional understanding. We work really hard to ensure we encourage the opportunity for immersion and avoid ‘busy work’ or unnecessary stress. So we plan and scope, and manage our time as best we can, which means we get the best out of the team — both in demeanour and attitude as well as creative thinking and design output. The team know we share the same principles as they do, and they’re given the space to explore and create, so they’re driven.
One of my key roles is to ensure we build and maintain the space they need to create. Whether it’s handling politics, juggling logistics and process or dealing with over-caffeinated clients.
I’m also there to listen, to have a pint with, to go to a design talk, and to stick doodles up on the wall. We’re in it together.
J: To stay inspired at work do you think it’s important to live creatively outside work? How do you do it?
L: As a creative, I don’t have very good boundaries between work and ‘outside work’ so this is a hard one to answer. If ‘living creatively’ means being a visual hoarder on Pinterest, Pocket and Instagram, and an avid reader on on the weekend with a coffee of my Feedly, then I’d say it is important. Everyone has their own way of being inspired though, it’s entirely individual.
J: In career terms, you can often divide creative professionals into two camps: the curious accidentals and the ambitious planners. How would you describe your career trajectory?
L: Ha! That is a great way of referring to it. I would say my career definitely falls into the ‘curious accidental’ group, with a good dose of ‘what the hell, let’s try!’
Looking back, with each career step I have taken a blind leap into the unknown.
I’m not sure I realised it at the time, it has only become clear now as I look back. Each time I made a change, I wanted to challenge myself and be a little uncomfortable. I’ve rarely had all the skills required for the role I’m going for. If I did, then the role would be boring, and that is the last thing I want.
Having said that, I’m now in a scenario where I’m learning at lightning speed every day and about one step from having Wikipedia permanently open on my phone in every meeting - so beware of what you ask for!
J: While there are more women pushing into ECD level it’s still quite rare. What were the biggest changes for you taking the step up?
L: Where do I start!
The expectations and responsibilities of a Creative Director in an agency don’t naturally lead into being able to take on the Executive Creative Director role. It changes depending on where you are, the set-up, the outputs and so on but essentially as a CD my role was to drive innovative creative thinking and high quality design output, lead projects, build client relationships, hire great design talent and create departmental initiatives.
Suddenly, as ECD I am expected to work with the Leadership Team to define our entire business model, overarching strategy and objectives for the year, brand positioning, go to market strategy, on top of my prior responsibilities. It has been a very sharp learning curve, and I’m taking every moment to learn from those around me who have done this before. I think the largest change for me is actually ahead when I become responsible for bringing in new clients. Watch out UK — I’m coming!
It helps immeasurably that I have two mentors who are there to have a coffee and a chat, and just listen.
I’d recommend to all out there to get a mentor, no matter what age you are and what level of experience you have.
J: In 2017 you were voted a Top 30 Creative Leader in the UK by Campaign Magazine and Creative Equals. Do you feel any weight or responsibility that comes with being the gender exception at this level and how do you approach that?
L: I want to ensure I am doing my very best to nurture future female creative talent. I think it’s important to be there to share life stories and experience, tips and tricks, and be someone they can look up to. If I took a moment to think about that responsibility much more, I’d probably freak out — so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing!
J: Can you talk us through a recent project that you are really proud.
L: If I did I’d have to kill you.
Just kidding! But it is pretty Masonic around here. I can’t share any client names, or projects. Let’s just say we’re working on the Future of the Student Experience with a UK University, we’re helping a Fintech create a new product and service, we’re launching a new health brand product in the UK, we’re designing a new digital service for a high street retailer and we’re helping a famous theatre become more inclusive, all in the last 3 months…just to name a few.
J: What sort of effect has the spectre of Brexit had on industry optimism or outlook, especially for young people just starting out?
L: We’re in such a state of instability and flux right now here. So far it hasn’t affected our work nor client interest, but I’m sure it will in some way over the coming months as most of our clients span all of Europe, if not the world.
It has started to, and will continue to, have a visible impact on our recruitment. I’ve noticed both a drop in European freelance designers answering open roles, and an uptick in people who used to be design contractors looking for a permanent role with stability. For those starting out, there is definite trepidation and concern, but my best advice right now is to continue as you were because we’re all in a similar state.
Don’t pause your life waiting for stability, because it might not come for longer than you hope.
J: So what would your advice be to young designers entering the industry today? How would you encourage them to stay the course?
L: Design will always be there, so do what you love. Network like crazy. Find a mentor. Work on your values as these will guide you through your career. Be nice. Listen to others. Learn new ways to express yourself — through technology, AI, interpretative dance, doesn’t matter!