Notes from Abroad. Michael Barron. London.

Do you encounter many other NZ designers while on assignment?
Not many, there is a large contingent of kiwi designers here but the industry is so much larger. We’re thinly spread.

How did you find getting work when you first arrived? And how did you go about it?
It was pretty straightforward, I started a permanent role at Together Design within a month of arriving in the country. I was keen to find something quickly and open minded about where I might end up working, so I contacted recruiters who were able to set me up with some interviews within a week. After a year at Together I decided to go freelance and I’ve kept busy making use of recruiters again as well as directly contacting design studios I’m interested in working for. There’s also a growing number of websites that provide a platform for freelancers to connect with clients however it’s still early days and results are mixed from what I’ve seen.

Have you found any barriers or downsides to being a New Zealand designer or has this worked in your favour?
There are New Zealand brands in my portfolio that need a bit more explaining! Every interview I have includes an introduction to the significance of L&P. I really think designers with some experience back home will find they’re well equipped for working here. The work ethic and array of skills gained in New Zealand sets us up nicely.

Do you feel Brexit has affected the work you do and the general vibe for New Zealanders in the UK?
It was a disappointing result but aside from the pound being worth less there isn’t much difference right now for Kiwis. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen in the next couple years as terms are negotiated. I feel worse for people from other EU countries who have moved their whole lives here and don’t really know what their status will be in the near future.

Obviously one of the huge benefits of living in the UK is the ability to travel around Europe so easily? Have you made the most of that so far? What are some highlights of your travels to date?
Of course! We explored the Norwegian fjords by kayak last year, that has to be near the top of my list. There are some really neat spots in our backyard too – some of my favourite trips have been renting a car and heading out into the English countryside – the Peak District and Lake District are super nice.

Is there anything about working abroad that you really don’t like? Have there been any low points for you on the job or while job hunting?
As a freelancer I’ve found the contracts are often shorter than I was used to back home, which is fine because I’m exposed to more of the industry and the way things work here. On the other hand I’m more prone to getting a ‘hospital pass’ assignment – the project that for some reason no one wants to touch and is already behind schedule. Not ideal, although it can be your chance to really shine as a freelancer. 

Is there a key piece of advice you’d offer to young NZ designers wanting to travel to the UK and gain experience in the creative market there?
I think it helps if you’re open-minded about who you’re going to work for and what type of work you might do. The industry is an iceberg of sorts. There are studios we are all exposed to via blogs but they are really only a tiny chunk of the quality work that is being produced here.

Where is your favourite place in London?
Maltby St Market with a beer and a toastie.

Thanks Michael. We do hope to see you back and working in the NZ design industry again soon. Besides family and friends, what do you miss most about New Zealand?
This is very dumb but I miss my car. I’m really over catching the tube. I want freedom! See you guys soon.Notes from Abroad

Michael Barron has worked permanent and freelance from Designworks to Dow, MIlk, Richards.Partners and Marx in NZ. He spread his wings for the UK in 2015.


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