We love the opportunity to get to know our DA friends better, so we’re happy to get the chance to speak with Megan Bardsley a freelance graphic designer with 15 years industry experience in New Zealand and the UK. We spoke about her career pathway, creative process, landing your dream job early in your career, juggling work and life commitments, fostering innovation and Megan’s future ambitions.
Being a DA Friend means you’re helping us to build a thriving New Zealand design scene. Your subscription has direct benefits for you too. Be Seen. Be Heard. Be Friend. Sign up here.
What led you toward design?
I’ve always loved making things. I spent untold hours on art and craft projects growing up, both at school and at home. When it came time to think about university, I ended up putting all my eggs in one basket and applying only to Massey University in Wellington. Luckily I got in.
Having had children of my own has reaffirmed my love of design. I missed it so much when my girls were tiny. Now they are older and I have more time, I find it such a joy to get deep in to a design project and let the hours fly by.
Can you describe the creative path you took to get where you’re at now?
My major project at university was about music graphics. So when C4 Music Television advertised for a Graphic Designer the year after I graduated I thought it was too good to be true. Obviously there was a connect between my work and the role, and I landed my ‘dream job’ straight out of university. It was also straight in the deep end as I was the only designer there, and my production skills were not quite at a commercial level. But I rode out the steep learning curve and had an absolute blast.
A couple of years later it was time for the Big OE. The GFC happened during my travels on the way to London and things looked pretty bleak for a while. It’s definitely true that it’s not what you know, but who you know. Running in to an old friend from university at the pub ultimately got me a job working as a designer for a marketing agency, with clients such as London City Airport.
On my return to NZ four years later, I joined design agency, Goodfolk. This was a kind of re-education for me, as I’d been working autonomously for years. Under a great Creative Director, and as part of a full design team I was pushed to grow and develop in ways I hadn’t had the opportunity to before.
Two daughters later, I now freelance from home for a mix of clients inherited from Goodfolk (RIP) and some of my own. Graphic Design turned out to be a great career choice in terms of working around family, as all I need is a laptop and I can work anywhere, anytime. Covid has also legitimatised my way of working – I’ve been working remotely from home for years!
You have worked in the UK and NZ – how do the creative scenes differ between the two?
My experience is that the design community in NZ is much more connected and supportive. London is just so big, everyone has their own goals, and in the GFC it was pretty much every man for himself. Whereas back in New Zealand, I found that people in my wider design circle were happy to meet up for a coffee, or give feedback on my portfolio to help me find my feet. There’s also groups like DA and DINZ working to create that sense of community.
As a freelance designer what does a typical work day look like for you?
First, my work day requires getting everyone else out of the house to daycare, school and work. Then, I make a coffee, put on some music and l literally clear a path through the toys on the floor to my fold out desk, and start work. I go like the clappers until my alarm goes four hours later to collect my youngest daughter. Then school bus pick up is at 3pm. I have pockets of time in the afternoon during nap time, TV time and bath time to make quick changes, or send emails as necessary – enough to tap jobs along until my next work window. If I have a big project come in I’ll block out time on the weekend to really get my head down while my husband looks after the girls. He has a studio in the garden, so I can retreat to there when the house is busy. He’s an Industrial Designer, so we both find it great to have another design eye to run things past and bounce ideas off.
It probably sounds like a bit of a chaotic system, but work/design is my ‘me’ time, and I find I’m a better Mum when I’ve got a balance between design time and kid time.
Can you give an example of where your work has delivered an unexpected return on investment for your client?
The most unexpected result (hard to measure the ROI on this one) was when I worked for C4. We had the existing C4 logo, then we developed a word marque for the slogan ‘Where Music Lives’ and we needed a way to house the two together. C4 had the ever present cube seats on-screen, so I tried the two logos on two faces of a white cube my husband modelled in CAD for me. It started out as one of a set of set of six or eight stickers, but that little cube ended up everywhere. On-screen, on merch, on the station vehicle – everywhere!
What project (personal or professional) are you most proud of? Why?
I’m most proud of my current work for Mixit and LegaSea. Both are non-profit organisations doing amazing work in the community.
Mixit is a refugee youth arts programme providing a creative outlet for young new New Zealanders. I’ve been working with Mixit for about 8 years now, and it’s always such fun. The client brings so much energy to each project and the imagery I get to work with is just beautiful.
I’ve also recently started working for LegaSea, an organisation dedicated to restoring New Zealand’s marine environment. Their Kai Ika project is particularly inspiring, feeding communities with previously underutilised kai moana.
As an independent freelancer I have less overheads than an agency and I can be bit more agile in response to briefs, which clients like these appreciate.
What is the most challenging project you’ve ever worked on and what did you learn from it?
Probably a piece of work I am also most proud of, a book celebrating the Auckland Town Hall Klais Organ’s 5th anniversary. I was lead designer on this 48 page commemorative book. I’d never completed such a long document before. There were years of imagery and content to convey, and a very passionate client to satisfy. Under the guidance of my CD, and testament to the power of the ‘pin up’, I delivered the best piece of document design I’d done up to that time. I gained priceless knowledge about layout, pacing and flow of a large document that I draw on to this day.
When you’re given a brief, where do you start?
Questions. Who is it for, where will it be seen, who are the competitors, what design conversation are we entering. Then research to build up a picture of who is doing what in the market and where we want to land with our communication. Next is sketches, then on to the Mac. I’ll often review the wording of a document as I go through the design process and make suggestions that will improve the overall communication of the piece too.
Unexpected routes lead to new territory! How do you mix things up and foster innovation in your work?
Get out and about. Working from home has a lot of upsides, but one downside is that you don’t see as much innovation as you could. I love a gallery, so I’ll try and get out to exhibitions or events when I can. I also find that while I’m only at my desk part time, ideas often percolate in the background when I’m away, and by the time I next sit down to work I’ll have new routes to explore, or I will have estimated that new job while out on a run!
Events like Semi Permanent also provide an annual injection of creativity.
What are your goals for the future?
As my girls grow, my available time will too, so I look forward to growing my client base in the next couple of years, then maybe one day returning to (small) agency life part time.
Finally, where can we see more of your work and connect with you?
Go to meganlbardsley.com for a snapshot of work from the last few years.
Email me: email@example.com