A pleb’s approach to polymathy

mark-makers on creativity

In this series we’re asking mark-makers to reflect on their relationship with their craft and what inspires them. This episode is with Middleweight Designer, Megan Williams

Following on from Steve’s Princepiration article I can only feel that my journey into this vocation is somewhat less colourful, and very definitely less purple. There was no lightbulb moment for me, nor any one particular idol to influence my path – my evolution has been, thus far, more of a gentle plod into a career that is at times hugely stimulating and at others pleasantly relaxing.

From a young age I knew I enjoyed being creative. I took to drawing, sticking, stamping, building, painting and so on with great enthusiasm, and began to amass beads, nail varnish (to paint with), and a miscellany of materials that I might use for all manner of crafty pursuits.

At school, I followed in my elder siblings’ more academic footsteps, always balanced with a continued interest and practice in artier subjects. Form always held weight with function; I would put extra effort into aesthetics as well as content, and take a controlling hand in group projects to make sure our presentations were up to scratch. I later aggravated my English teacher by using the money I got for the English prize at school to buy and be presented with a book on design (sorry Mr. Fox).

Decisions as to higher education and potential career paths were subject to a classic head vs heart debate: studying law would probably result in higher financial gain, but following the creative route would likely make me happier. Fortunately I’ve benefitted from open-minded and encouraging parents, who’ve indulged my previously-mentioned hoarding of craft supplies, accepted my night-owl tendencies and offered a supportive sounding board for my frequent indecisiveness.

When I would lament having to choose between my creative and academic inclinations, my mother would point to figures that embraced a multidisciplinary approach. Leonardo da Vinci – the quintessential Renaissance Man, a polymath of arts and sciences. More recent characters like Brian May – musician, photographer and astrophysicist.

Sadly I can’t claim even a fraction of the creative or intellectual genius of these figures. My limited competence in science and languages has shrivelled with disuse, my maths has become frankly embarrassing, my musical talents would cause even a hearing-impaired audience to wince and, despite my profession, even my drawing skills would fail to impress a primary school teacher.

That said, I love the idea of polymathy, of indulging in continued learning, exploring different subjects and expanding my knowledge. And that’s where graphic design comes in.

While I always enjoyed crafting (and still do), I knew early on that the life of an artist was not for me – it would require a confidence and desire for self-expression that I lack. Graphic design however offers a more tantalising prospect – to apply creative thinking to other people’s problems and causes, to dip into products and passions that might well be foreign to you personally. Working for a multidisciplinary agency with a wide client base, most projects offer the opportunity to learn something new, to apply yourself to a different problem with different outcomes, or to find unexpected connections and opportunities for cross-pollination.

My first project at mark-making* was for a charity called Hydrogeologists Without Borders (now Groundwater Relief). Unsurprisingly, hydrogeology was not a field with which I’d previously had much contact, but for the short period I worked on that project, I was able to research and converse to develop a surface-level understanding of the subject. Since then I’ve worked with clients big and small, from banks and high street retailers to horticultural behemoths to companies in science, tech and software to festivals and local groups. For every new client there is an early, intrinsic investigative stage – and it’s indulging this variety and building my collection of layman’s insights that continues to fascinate me.

Ultimately I cannot claim to be either jack of all trades or master of one, but I do consider myself fortunate to work in field that branches into and supports so many others. It’s certainly the closest this relative simpleton will ever get to becoming a modern day Renaissance Woman.

About Megan

Senior Designer