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Product Design alumni come together for an afternoon in Conversations on Design

Three notable NTU Product Design alumni came together for an insightful discussion on their careers, spanning a combined 45 years’ worth of experience.

Conversations on Design
Jim Dale (Head of Product Design) alongside Nicole, Stuart, Henrietta and Les Arthur (Product Design Senior Lecturer) L-R

Staff and students from the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment were treated to an exciting afternoon of discussions from three well respected Product Design graduates this February, who came together alongside lecturer Les Arthur, to discuss their experiences, journeys and lessons learned throughout their careers so far.

The afternoon of presentations commenced with Stuart Wells, a Design Management graduate who has worked for a number of high-profile professional services companies, including advertising and product development roles at PWC, AMV and Nokia. Stuart currently works for Adidas Outdoor in Germany, as their Global Head of Marketing and Communications, developing two collections; Terrex and Five Ten.

Stuart discussed his career journey, giving students insightful advice on how to cultivate tangible success and emotional wellbeing. He also passed on more practical advice, including an anecdote about being made redundant from a job he thought was his dream – highlighting that even someone at the peak of their career can have setbacks. Ultimately, Stuart mentioned how hard work, determination to succeed and pushing the boundaries of consumer perceptions were just a few of the key skills he has honed throughout his degree and subsequent career.

We chatted to Stuart after the event, to hear more about the value these connections can bring to our students: “The thing that interested me in coming along to this event is that there is a group of students who are about to enter the workforce and when I found myself in that position, I found it extremely daunting, as I had a hunch as to what I should do, but I didn’t have somebody coming back, particularly someone twenty years down the line saying; this is what happened to me, and this is what I’ve learnt.”

Stuart also mentioned how useful he found the event himself, telling us: “I saw this as an opportunity to come and to share my thoughts, but it was also a good way for me to connect with the audience and learn from them, as I’m of the view that you never stop learning. I came here as much to share, but also to absorb and take in what’s going on – especially with the other speakers we have here, there’s some incredible talent in those two women, it’s something that’s great to see and is really inspiring, so it’s been a great experience.”

Conversations on Design Lecture
Nicole, Stuart and Henrietta answering students' questions

The next speaker of the afternoon was Nicole Crentsil, a London-based creative who graduated from Product Design in 2014. Nicole went on to pursue a number of marketing and PR based roles post-graduation, including Marketing and E-Commerce Management at Dezeen, an Account Executive at Caro Communications, and Digital Brand and Project Management at The Artworks. Nicole has now used her transferable skills learnt throughout her time on the course to tailor her career, founding and directing the UK’s first ‘Black Girls Fest’ alongside friend and co-founder Paula Apkan.

Nicole emphasised design students’ ability to become multifaceted individuals, honing a number of key skills and attributes that allow them to fit into a different industries; from PR to curation, and events management to creative consultancy. Students were fascinated to learn that around 1 in 11 jobs throughout the UK are creative-based roles, contributing over £100 billion to the economy. Nicole also empowered our students to consider an untraditional range of career options – such as with her experience as the director of Black Girls Fest.

We caught up with Nicole after her presentation to discuss how these events are so beneficial: “Events like this one are really important for enriching students’ wider experience of the industry. It’s really rewarding to be able to have people currently working within industry from various different backgrounds and disciplines talking to students about what the industry looks like, and also about their creative pathways into these specific careers.”

Nicole told us more: “I think for students to feel really motivated and inspired by the courses they’re embarking on and also for what they’re going to do after university, it’s really important to hear from people with the lived experiences and stories. So these talks are therefore really valuable for providing that amazing content that can give students that pathway into what they want to pursue next.”

The final speaker of the event was Henrietta Thompson, a Product Design graduate with over twenty years’ experience in journalism and publishing. Originally starting out at OK Magazine, and subsequently heading over to trade magazines such as Engineering and New Design (of which she set up), Henrietta honed her craft for design and journalism at Wallpaper magazine, consulting for brands and becoming Editor-at-Large of the publication.

She has now created two of her own brands, both fulfilling a personal need in response to shifting customer perceptions. The first, Naked on the Piano, is a London-based storytelling agency specialising in creating content with editorial integrity, whilst focusing on communications that are simple, entertaining and engaging.

The next brand, set up together with her husband Ed Padmore, is Harth, a furniture, art and interiors rental platform created with the ever-changing perceptions of millennial consumers. Giving flexibility to interiors, the platform allows people to borrow rather than buy, and was created after Henrietta moved homes four times in just two years, with furniture constantly in storage.

Henrietta spoke to our students about the ways in which the design industry has shifted, to become something worthy of respect and admiration, with fundamentals in systems, processes and structure – rather than just styling and aesthetic. She also encouraged students to think about creating new products and services. With personal understanding of creating two companies out of a direct gap in the market, Henrietta shared knowledge on creating disruptions in the industry by introducing a new way for people to shop and own interiors.

We spoke to Henrietta to hear more about her experience of the afternoon: “It’s been really brilliant to come back after nearly twenty years, when I’ve been everything from a writer, an editor to running exhibitions, and now I’ve set up my own start-up venture Harth. It’s brilliant to remember how it feels to be at university with everything ahead of you.”

Henrietta told us more about how the event is beneficial for current students: “It’s really important to me to be able to carry on talking to people who are studying and about to be graduating, and figuring out what their next steps are going to be. Things are very different now to how they were when I graduated, – but in lots of ways there are many similarities, and I think if someone told me that I was going to be doing what I’m doing now, twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have ever believed them. So I think it’s really vital to keep conversations going between industry and students, and that educational piece is so important.”

Published on 12 March 2019
  • Subject area: Architecture and civil engineering
  • Category: Current students; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment