From lying to rude portfolios: the job interviews designers will never forget

Jenny Theolin, creative partner, Studio Theolin

“One of my favourite interview experiences was with Ken Ansell, creative director and co-owner at Clinic, where I had to answer a series of bonkers questions. What I said got me the job apparently (in combination with my amazing design skills, obviously). ‘Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with?’ was the question. To which I pondered for a good minute or so, and returned with ‘a mute’. Once you sit in an interview, your portfolio and CV have already got you there. You are technically good enough for the job (on paper at least). The interview is, and always will be, a personality and culture test. Group dynamics is crucial in business – we all know how hungry culture is!”

Jack Renwick, founder, Jack Renwick Studio

“Being completely disillusioned that I was cool and would get a job designing record covers, I go for my first interview in the design world with a well-known studio. They call back to offer me the job – yay! Not wanting to make a rash decision, I panic and say I’ve been offered another job so need time to decide.

The guy says, ‘Who offered you the job?’

Shit. I grab a business card I’d been left at my graduate show. ‘Err…a guy called Mark Farrow, from a studio called Farrow,’ I say.

‘Oh right, what did he say about your work?’

‘Eh, he thought it was really good,’ I lie, but I think I’m handling it.

‘Okay, I’m meeting Mark for a drink later so we’ll talk about it.’


‘Yeah, he’s one of my friends and we’re out tonight.’


I take a deep breath. ‘Actually, I’m lying,’ I say. ‘I’ve never met Mark Farrow, he has no idea who I am.’ In that second, I realise how small the industry is and realise I should probably avoid any studios that design record covers.”

Simon Manchipp
Simon Manchipp, owner and co-founder, SomeOne

“Over 21 years ago, when portfolios were huge, A2 suitcases stuffed with paper and physical examples, I worked in a London-based design studio. Alongside a bunch of very smart, exciting people, we were held together by the shared endeavour of creating great work together against all odds. It’s amazing how close you can get with total strangers after lots of all-night pitches, pizzas and a string of random nights in a Samuel Smith Pub.

We were the definition of a great team – or so we thought. One morning, we heard through our hangovers that a designer — one of us, no less — was going to creep out at lunchtime to show his portfolio to a rival studio. The sneak! He hadn’t even told us!

We were far from impressed. It was time to put a stop to this. As a couple of us distracted him with an entirely unnecessary meeting based on the size of a bottle top, a small team opened his portfolio and placed a series of deeply offensive centrefolds from a top-shelf magazine of ill repute that shall not be named towards the end of his portfolio.

Slipped in between the plastic sleeves towards the end of his folder, his ‘big finish’, saw a series of images displaying crescendos of an entirely different kind.

Lunch came, he gallivanted off to the secret hook-up, unaware of the strength of his sales pitch, A2 portfolio under his arm.

A painful one and a half hours later, he returned – flushed and furious to a studio in fits of laughter. A smile cracked. Our pal was back.

The potential job was blown. Their loss was his gain as he became a creative director and went on to do great things.”

Greg Quinton
Greg Quinton, executive creative director, The Partners

“The summer I graduated, the weather was hot and design was cool. I’d had some good interviews and, frankly, thought the sun shone out of my own backside. As I waited in the reception of one studio, I prepped a few pretentious lines in my head about how I loved their work but thought it could be even better with my ideas.

The creative director flicked through my book and clearly didn’t like what he saw. He paused on a page detailing a one-day, ideas-based project, which involved producing birthday cards for two celebrities. I’d created one for Terence Conran that adapted the existing Habitat logo – which at the time was made up of a table and a light – by adding a lit birthday cake to it. I had also created an edible one made of rice paper for a chef.

‘Why haven’t you designed them?’ he said.

‘It was a quick project,’ I said. ‘I focused on the ideas.’

‘I hate ideas.’

We stared at each other. I thanked him, awkwardly packed my stuff and left.

I learnt more in that interview than any other. Studios differ because they’re based around their principals – and therefore, their principles. Study them and respect their differences. Be honest about your strengths, and your weaknesses. Learn humility – don’t be an idiot like me!”

What’s your most memorable job interview experience, good or bad? Let us know in the comments section below.

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