Hey! I'm Callum. I am a UK based designer specialising in User Experience and User Interface design. I am the founder and director of Circlebox Creative Limited. I also co-founded Dotgrid.co, a store that sells dot grid books for designers and Inkbug, a store that sells your Inkbug photos as prints and stickers. I am also one of four co-founders of Traveltrooper.
Other than design, I love to travel, drink craft beer and eat food. I'm also a die-hard Tottenham fan.
I update the following auto-biography very occasionally. It was originally an in-depth about me section on a project I launched in 2010. I was amazed by how many people read it and emailed me to say that it was inspirational and gave them the push they needed to go it alone and become a freelance designer... for that reason, I kept it.
I was born on the 23rd February 1991 in a small town called Royston in Hertfordshire (United Kingdom), on the outskirts of University city Cambridge. I’m a dual-citizen of the UK and Australia.
It all started at a very young age for me. For almost as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to do something in the creative field. Growing up I wanted to be a graphic designer. I liked the idea of several other career options too, such as an archaeologist, architect or interior designer (I was a sucker for Changing Rooms), but always came back to graphic design in the long run, which eventually turned into web design as technology started to take over everyones life.
I was always creative at school. My favourite lessons were a mixture of art, design-orientated lessons such as woodwork, graphics and even textiles, and ICT/computing. I studied English, Maths, Science, Art, Design Technology, ICT and Resistant Materials (wood/metal work) for my GCSE’s. My further education consists of AS and A Levels. I studied Art, Design Technology and Photography. I did not attend a University, and therefore do not have a Degree or Diploma – yet here I am, doing what I’ve always wanted to do!
It was 2009 and I was leaving college with a handful of paper stating that I had GCSE, AS and A Level qualifications in the aforementioned subjects. At the time – being in the middle of one of the worst world recessions to date, or at least in my lifetime – I felt these certificates meant nothing. Were these extra two years I chose to spend at college really going to increase my chances of landing a job in a position and/or company I actually wanted to work for?
I spent several days per week doing nothing but searching for suitable positions. At the time I was mainly searching for local jobs, in and around Stevenage, Royston and Cambridge, all of which are within a 15 mile radius of where I live. I soon discovered that this was hopeless, as most worthwhile design agencies are based in the big cities, my closest being London. I wasn’t too keen on working in the capital (London) due to the commute. Having to look for my first full time job was scary enough, no matter having to do a 1-2 hour commute to and from work each day.
After a few weeks some luck flew my way. I managed to land an interview as an in-house junior designer at the Hotel Chocolat head offices in my hometown of Royston. The chances of this were very slim, mainly because there aren’t many design positions in Royston. I was over the moon!
My first interview
As many of you probably worked out from the above sub-heading, this was my first interview, meaning I did not land the job. I was well prepared for the interview and my interviewers seemed very impressed with me and my skills. As well as telling me they were impressed, they also told me that I was one of ten to be interviewed, those ten having been selected from hundreds of applicants, a large number of which had Degrees and further (University) qualifications, most of which were fresh out of Uni. In fact, I was the youngest and only junior to be interviewed who didn’t have a degree; it’s tough to get an interview at such a young age, but this goes to show a portfolio is more important than a £30,000 degree!
Although I didn’t get the job, or even a second interview, this was a huge confidence boost. I didn’t expect to get the job having been told I was the only one without a degree, and was very grateful that they’d given me an interview in the first place. From this experience I knew what to expect from any further interviews I may have been invited to, and knew exactly how to prepare for them.
After several more weeks I had still not landed a second interview. Not because of the lack of experience, but due to the lack of jobs to apply for. The job market was dead, especially the creative field, which had been severely struggling at this particular time being in a recession. Companies who normally get marketing materials designed stopped promoting due to money struggles, and therefore design agencies stopped employing unless they really had to.
I decided to try and make a go of things myself. My thought at the time was to charge next to nothing to get the word out yet produce great design. Sure, I didn’t earn much, but it built up not only my portfolio but my experience in dealing with clients too, good and bad experiences (although mostly bad – if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, the clients wanting to pay less are normally nightmare clients).
I managed to get a part-time job (2-3 days per week) working at a local but well-established printing firm. I was more of a factory worker doing odd bits and bobs but managed to get my hands stuck in to some work in the pre-press department, picking a lot of things up about lithographic printing along the way, which wasn’t a bad thing! This job helped to fund my exploration in becoming self-employed, and after a few months I was able to purchase my first iMac and get an upgrade of my software, from Adobe CS3 Design Standard to Adobe CS4 Design Premium.
After a couple of months, I was unexpectedly offered a full-time position at the company with the job role title being ‘Pre-Press Assistant’. I wasn’t actively looking for a job at this stage, but one fell right into my hands. This role would have included setting files up for print, making minor modifications, and running out proofs of the designs that were sent in. After a few days considering the offer I turned it down and handed my notice in for my part-time job. I was buzzing, excited and scared. I hadn’t a clue whether I had done the right thing. The day after, my expanding business of graphic and web design as well as blogging (writing tutorials and design articles) became official, I had registered as self-employed under the name of Circlebox Creative.
Applying for some jobs
At this stage in my story I have been self-employed for two years, and it’s been great. I’ve had ups and downs, but always come out stronger. I have a growing list of clients that I love working with, and my experience in the field, learnt first-hand, has developed a lot, giving me enough confidence to help others who are in the position I was in 2009. I had also started to focus on digital design, mostly user interface design, such as designing websites and iPhone applications.
At the time of writing this I am still only 20 years old. I should still be classed as a junior designer, but have actually been to several interviews this year for roles much higher up the ladder than that. To give you an idea, here are three I have been to:
Crab Creative – This job was for a role titled “Social Media Whizz”. It would have included looking after social media accounts as well as designing. I applied for this position. It required 2+ years of experience, degree an advantage, and it was for £25,000-£30,000. I was offered the job the same day as the interview but turned it down, as after the travelling expenses to London everyday I would have pocketed less than what I already do, and I also wanted to have more of a design focused role.
Signal | Noise – This company is booming, with clients such as Nokia, BBC, Channel 4 and o2. They were looking for a freelance designer to help on a regular basis with their design projects. I got in touch and next thing I knew I was in London having a coffee with the guys. I was offered the opportunity to help the team design a new Nokia operating system. This was a great experience!
Hailo Taxis – This jobs position title was ‘Head UI Designer’, and I didn’t apply for it. I was actually headhunted for the position due to the companies CEO seeing my work on the web. I went to the interview (which happened to be on a moored boat, pretty cool!) but wasn’t offered the job. Although at 20 years old being head-hunted for such a position left me completely stoked. I was over the moon!
A year in Melbourne, Australia
After applying for jobs in early 2011 my confidence went through the roof, and I started working with a lot of startup companies. This work involved user experience and interface design for a handful of platforms, such as the web, iPhone, iPad and Android.
One client I landed went by the name of MUD MAP, a small Australian-based company who make an awesome GPS iPhone and iPad app targeting outdoor enthusiasts and adventurers. I jumped at the opportunity and helped them redesign their entire brand and app. Upon completion of the app, I was offered a job, full time, in Australia. I’m fortunate enough to be a dual-citizen and hold both a British and Australian passport. Moving to Australia is something I have always wanted to do after spending a year in Perth, WA, back when I was 9 years old, so I was keen to get out there. Three months later I was at London Heathrow airport. 32 hours after this and I was in Melbourne Airport… A further 12 hours later and I’m sitting here in my new apartment next to the sea in a lovely suburb of Melbourne called Mordialloc, working full time for MUD MAP and still running Circlebox Creative as a side business. It really is incredible how quickly a life can change!
Back to being my own boss
After working at MUD MAP for 6 months, I decided to go back self-employed. I personally enjoy working from home without the need to commute to work, and the freedom is a huge bonus for me. I didn’t like the restrictions of full time work, such as being stuck indoors when it was 35ºC outside. I had the skills and knowledge to be self-employed which allowed me to enjoy a few hours out at lunch time, and caught up later in the evening when it wasn’t sunny out, or on miserable rainy days. So as from January 2012, Circlebox Creative was back in business full time. Due to the cost of living in Melbourne, I doubled my rate… It was scary as at first I thought I might lose out on potential work, but it turns out I got more work than ever, and started to attract bigger and better startup companies.
In March 2012, my partner and I had a big decision to make; do we stay in Australia or do we head back to England and see more of the world? I’m an Australian citizen so we have the option to stay here in Australia for good, but that also gives us the option to come back and stay for good at any point in our lives, not just now. After days of non-stop thinking and sleepless nights we finally made our minds up; we wanted to head back to the UK. This means we can see more of Europe, it is basically on our doorstep after all! After spending a week in hot and humid Bangkok, I was back in the UK, continuing to work self-employed. You can read more about my travels and look at photos I took on callumandalex.com.
In October 2012, my Uncle, his business partner and I launched Dotgrid.co. We design, produce and sell dot grid books for designers and illustrators. They are made from sustainable materials by us right here in the UK. Dotgrid.co is a collaboration between Circlebox Creative & Dragon Print.
Circlebox Creative goes Limited
In November 2013, I decided to register Circlebox Creative as a Limited company. Circlebox Creative is expanding as a company (not to mention the tax bills getting higher!) and it was just a matter of time until I bit the bullet and went Limited. I had been putting it off for almost a year, but when it came down to it, it was a no brainer.