The Designers: Accept & Proceed’s Alison Haigh on learning new skills and getting lost in London
With over a decade of experience in the design industry, Alison Haigh has lent her creative expertise to nearly every direction imaginable. From leading groundbreaking brand projects to hosting lectures and talks that inform and educate the wider design community. Now, as a Design Director at Accept & Proceed, she is embracing her leadership role. She spoke to us about life in London, exploring new creative skills, and embracing risks, for the twenty-seventh entry into our series, The Designers.
PT Hey Alison, how’s your summer been so far?
AH Hi Poppy. It’s been good, thank you. I’ve been enjoying seeing the world open up a bit more again and it’s been great to spend some more time with everyone at the studio too.
PT You’ve been at Accept & Proceed since 2020, what led you to apply there?
AH I had always admired the beautiful craft and depth of thinking in A&P’s work, so when the opportunity arose to join the team and learn from them, there was no way I was saying no. Also after years focused purely on large-scale branding work, I was excited to mix things up and have the chance to create work that lived beyond a set of guidelines. To play a part in creating experiences people really connect with and try to make more of a positive difference in the world.
I've found moving to a director role to be a better fit for me.
PT As a Design Director, what does your day-to-day schedule look like?
AH Primarily my days are a mix of project check-ins, working sessions and client presentations. I’ll carve out some focused working time alongside 1-to-1’s with the team and my responsibilities regarding new business, recruitment and business ops.
No two days are the same and I love that about A&P. The variety of projects coming through the door always ensures I’m kept on my toes in terms of new challenges.
PT How have you found working in a leadership role? What kind of leader would you describe yourself as?
AH I’ve found moving to a director role to be a better fit for me personally. I’m still involved with the elements of projects that excite me the most, but I also get to help others achieve their ambitions and play a part in shaping the future of the business.
Who am I as a leader? I think I’m still figuring that out but I know my views on leadership have been shaped by some of the incredible people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. They would nurture their teams with honesty, clarity and belief. It showed me the true power of leading by example.
PT Following the launch of The Middle School in 2019 – your initiative to help mid-career designers – what insight have you found the most valuable or memorable?
AH Thanks to their honesty and vulnerability, I can easily say I’ve learnt something new from every one of The Middle School speakers so far. Their generosity in sharing their stories and advice has given me so much hope for the future of the industry, especially in seeing how people were craving honest conversations about this tricky middle stage in our careers.
More than anything though, their words have helped me to be less hard on myself and more accepting of the fact that we are all going to make mistakes along the way and those don’t have to define us.
PT What does your workspace setup look like?
AH I work on a laptop so I don’t really have a defined workspace. I predominantly like to move around to find a space that suits the task I’m doing. Two days a week I work from home and primarily work in my living room, which provides beautiful views of the old town hall next door and a glimpse at the occasional wedding. The other three days I’ll be in the A&P studio moving between spaces or trying to make the most of our garden.
Uni really helped to further develop my conceptual way of thinking.
PT You describe yourself as a ‘conceptual and logical thinker.’ Are they traits that you had growing up or have developed over time?
AH The logical side has definitely been there since I was young as I’ve always sought to understand how things work and had a very practical mindset. Then studying at Brighton Uni really helped to further develop my conceptual way of thinking. Our projects were so much more about our ideas and how we thought, rather than the software we knew how to use and that shaped how I approach briefs to this day.
PT If you weren’t working in design, what industry or career could you see yourself doing?
AH It was a very close call between studying graphic design or photography after my foundation so I would probably say I’d try to be a photographer.
I grew up in a family of photography enthusiasts and spent a large proportion of my teenage years as a gig photographer for punk and metal bands. As the non-musical one amongst my friends, it was my ticket into their world and I enjoyed nothing more than disappearing behind the lens to observe the magic in the interactions between the band, the lights and the audience.
PT Outside of work, what is your favourite thing to do in London?
AH We are really lucky at A&P to have every other Friday off and nothing makes me happier than exploring the city with our team as they always have the best suggestions for exhibitions, restaurants and pubs for us to try.
I also love purposely getting lost in the square mile of the City when it’s deserted on a Sunday and the Barbican Library has a very special place in my heart. I could happily sit there for hours, pulling books out at random and pouring over their contents. It always feels like a good antidote to my heavily curated feeds on social media.
PT Are there any skills that you’re working on or would like to learn?
AH In my own personal work, I create a lot of abstract patterns inspired by typography or the hidden patterns in the world around us. It has always been a dream of mine to take these from the screen and apply them to fabric in some way.
I recently had the chance to take a weaving class and I fell in love with the meditative process of using a large loom. I was fascinated with how a simple code-like combination of lever positions could create such beautifully intricate designs.
As an industry we’re becoming more honest.
PT From your experience in the design industry, how do you think studio culture has evolved, and will evolve in the future?
AH The pandemic turned the world on its head and presented us with an opportunity to stop and reflect on how we work. As a result, it feels as an industry we’re becoming more honest, more open to new voices and more prepared to take risks.
All of which we are going to need as we face increasingly urgent environmental challenges, and potential huge shifts in technology and global consumption habits. These factors are going to shape the problems we are asked to solve and potentially the role which a design studio can play in having a positive impact on the world.
Now is the time to ask ourselves what we want that studio of the future to be. To be brave and try things out, because as Seal put it so well back in 1999, “We’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy.”