Rufus stories: The journey from graduate to Senior Designer

Rufus Leonard in the news

This article was first published by Lecture In Progress on the 8th August 2019.

A fresh new recruit of agency Rufus Leonard, Bhav Mistry has thrown himself into an array of roles since his graduation from Chelsea’s Graphic Design Communication course in 2012. Sifting through significant moments in his career, the graphic designer recalls having to convince his family that design was a desirable path for him, as well as recounting the significance of experience at Berlin based studio Neubau, and emphasising the value of side projects.


How would you describe your job?
I’ve been at brand-led digital experience agency Rufus Leonard for a couple of months now, so there is a bit of new-kid-on-block feeling. I support my creative directors with various parts of workload; working with my project directors and producers to make sure they’ve got everything they need; and also with suppliers and mentoring and training juniors and mid-weight designers. Additionally I teach at Chelsea UAL, currently curating a type-based brief with Peter Chadwick and David Barnett (year two director and course director).

How is your time split between different tasks? 
I get to work around 9am.We have a daily check-in with the client at 9:45 and then set tasks for next few days, prioritising what needs to be done first. I find I’m a lot more efficient during the 10am to 1pm period, so I usually have my headphones in and blitz through various tasks outlined by the team. Then lunch for an hour.

The 2pm to 6pm period is a mixture of checking in on the team; managing various deadlines, and working with the directors to ensure things are running smoothly. The studio environment has a great blend of head-down-and-graft and homely comfort with dogs roaming around; a mix of different disciplines and levels sitting amongst each other and a freezer fully stocked with ice-cream.

So far my experience has been much more hands-on-design, with some overseeing of designers as well as production. I print out a lot of my work, analyse it and then scribble all over it. It’s very much a collaborative process with my creative directors, and we split the workload and support each other where necessary.

How did you land your current job? 
I got put forward by a recruiter, Oliver Yemm, from Represent. I’d always admired Rufus Leonard. Particularly because they have famously held the Lloyds Banking Group account for almost 30 years and my mum has also worked for Lloyds Bank for around that time.

So for once it was nice that my mum actually knew the work I was spending my time on, as she sees it day-in-day-out. I ended up having three interviews, meeting various levels of the company. I always felt confident in my ability and left all those interviews knowing I couldn’t have done anymore. My mum messaging me after each one saying “Have you got it yet?” – it was great to tell her I finally did!

The work I do with Chelsea was a more organic process. After I graduated in 2012 they got me back in to do a small session when the new crop started. In 2013, I ran a typography brief, which has since evolved over the years but remains based around designing a bespoke typeface. In 2015, they also asked me to run an elective (an entire module) across multiple courses: Interior Design, Textile Design and Graphic Design Communication. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
Didn’t I already mention the free ice-cream? I think the most enjoyable aspect of the job is being in an environment with a strong, supportive infrastructure. This gives the employees the confidence to work hard without burning out and maintaining a great studio culture.

During the summer months, the board give us the opportunity to choose certain days so we can leave at lunch on a Friday! So there’s plenty of perks like that. My most mundane task has got to be cleaning my desktop on my computer (usually ends with everything going into one folder called ‘2019’).

What skills are essential to your job? 
The further I progress in my career the more I have realised the importance of communication. My confidence and ability to engage with clients, encouraging students and supporting my peers far outweighs any technical abilities I have. Being clear, successfully articulating the clients and directors needs and ability to work hard and fast are my essentials.

Do you run any side projects alongside your job? 
I think it’s important to switch off from work. However I like to keep creatively active – be that through street photography, animating or, a new pastime, learning origami. When I started my career I would spend hours on end designing, drawing and constructing typefaces, 

I’ve got a hard drive somewhere with lots of initial lettering experiments. Few would make it in a full character set, although it was more about the process and practising that craft. Nowadays I love the art of paper folding or capturing dark and isolated moments through photography.

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
I often struggled to answer this at school due to not knowing what I was ‘good’ at until I started to enjoy art class when I was in year 9 or 10. It felt natural, I felt my brain expand and I’d look forward to any creative task. Then, I had to convince my family that design was the direction I wanted to go

What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
I learnt to be confident in my decisions, and stand by them. Art school was very much frowned upon in my family. It was very much a get-any-job culture; ‘Just get a job at a Sainsbury’s, you can design what the toilet rolls stacks will look like’ – quote from an uncle. There is also a culture of ‘be good at one thing and do it for 50 years.’ Whereas I didn’t particularly know I what I wanted, and I was happy to discover where my creativity took me.

After graduating, what were your initial steps? 
I’d done a couple of internships whilst at university, but the most significant was at Neubau Berlin in 2011. I found my feet relatively quickly, mainly due to my experience there, which got me some attention when applying to places. I focused on meeting all types of professionals in the creative industry to expand my knowledge and network. Then I’d send out personalised digital invites to people who I respected with a link to my portfolio, in the hope they’d reply!

Was there anything in particular that helped your development?
When I got to Neubau, they were working on a new book called Neubau Forst, comprised of over 300 tree vectors; designers would take a photograph of a specific tree in winter and summer and then manually trace each tree in Illustrator. 

The summer variation of the tree I worked on had 45,000 anchor points and the winter a whopping 92,000 anchor points. It was two months of serious attention-to-detail, rigour and craft. Following this internship, they asked me to return to help design and construct their first serif typeface, Neubau Antiqua. And in 2014 Neubau Forst was published by Lars Müller, after 5 years, 20+ designers and a lot of RSI.

What’s been your biggest challenge? 
Finding the right work-life balance. A happy home makes for a happy office. I’ve made various technical mistakes along the way, which I’ve learnt from. For example; when I was early on in my career, I sent an A4-formatted artwork off to a printer which was for an A5 document! Reckless mistake, but I definitely learnt a lot from those moments. 

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
My expectation of the creative industry when I was in education to where I am now is somewhat different. In university I thought it would be hands-on design, all day every day. In reality I’ve realised the design industry is full of businesses, which are finding their own path to do great work whilst feeding those who help them get there. Balancing profitability and design sensibility.

What would you like to do next?
I’m counting my blessings and taking it day-by-day. If I put my head down and hustle, good things will happen. One goal of mine is to keep learning, and to never settle. I love the idea of designing something so ubiquitous that it reaches everyone in the UK.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same kind of work?
Don’t forget this is a people-based industry, so try go out and meet people without an agenda. Gain as much knowledge as you can. Connect with people you admire – when I left university I remember meeting Hamish Muir, Gareth Hague, Paul McNeil and Marcus Leis Allion amongst many – just for advice and a chit-chat over a pint or coffee.

Not only did this help me understand things about the industry I didn’t know back then, it also helped me become more comfortable talking about design to people who speak the same language. Don’t be a dick and be nice to people, it’s a small industry.

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