martin donnelly

he/him | #design #birmingham


Hello, first of all, how are you?

I’m good thank you!


Give us some fun facts about yourself?

I own a rock from Sting’s maze garden, Sting the singer from The Police. I’ve met Craig David in a lift in the empire state building. I like to go on bike rides with my son, I am an Illustrator, Graphic Designer and Photographer all in one, it allows me to explore various creative possibilities’ without feeling restricted or becoming stuck in a rut.


For those of us who don’t know, who is Martin Donnelly?

To some degree, I’m this split personality of creative personas. I grew up like most kids drawing characters from my favourite comic books. Art was the only subject I flourished in at school so it was inevitable that that would be the only option. I went to college and studied Graphic Design where I quickly realised that there were many faces to the subjects that I just had to explore, Illustration photography, typography and motion, all made it ten times richer for me.


As a designer who also happens to be a lecturer, do you have any advice for new designer’s?

Feeling anxious about leaving university and entering the working world is normal. Fear of the unknown is a nature human response. Take it one day at a time. It is normal to have imposter syndrome (I still have it), not everybody in industry is an expert at their craft, they are all constantly learning just like you.


They know that it’s quite a scary thing to walk into a studio for the first time, as they were in the same position once. I would say go into a workplace, absorb as much as you can, always be inquisitive. You are surrounded by people with a common goal, to support the team and create great work. As you become more experienced remember that feeling you had when you first started, because eventually new grads will come in and then it’ll be you that acts as mentor and support.



What has been your favourite or most successful project that you’ve done so far?

They vary depending on how you measure success, but I’m quite proud of a project that I worked on with a creative team for Microsoft. It was a project to help people to understand the gestural touch controls of one of their new tablets (this was back in 2015-ish ). We wanted to create an engaging and immersive experience through play.


We created this thing called the Beatbox Choir, which was an interactive collection of hip-hop characters with individual percussion sounds that you could sync together. They would all act as a band (or choir) that you could control. Each character had a simple gesture attached to it to help you experience the touch functionality. I got to lead the creative process from conceptual ideation through to animation and implementation with the tech team. It was beautiful to see it come out the other end working with the initial vision intact.



Who has been your favourite client?

There have been lots of memorable projects and very different client experiences. I have loved working with Gallery1988 over the past ten years or so. They commission me to create a numbers artwork for their shows each year. The shows are always based around films, TV show and other pop culture reference points that I absolutely love. The projects are always great to work on and allow me to continue to develop my illustration portfolio under the alias of Known as Unknown.


Do you believe the creative industries are diverse?

No not yet, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to balance equality. It's promising to work with students from different backgrounds, personalities, life experiences, genders and beliefs, they are going to be the creatives that change the landscape for better.



How could we improve the lack of diversity/inclusivity?

Address disparity and bring balance. We want to see more BAME faces in studios and no gender pay gap. These are the graduates that we send out into the world each year. We must support change makers like:


The Girlhood is an initiative that supports 11-24 women with creative potential realise their ambitions. http://www.thegirlhood.co.uk

Commercial Break has a five-year track record of getting creatively-minded 18-24 year old Londoners, from lower income families, careers in the industry. https://www.commercialbreak.org.uk/


We Are Stripes creates and supports opportunities for the BAME community – helping mid- and senior-level creatives navigate the next stages of their careers, and junior creatives to break into the industry with Stripes-supported intern programmes.

http://www.wearestripes.org.uk/


Who are your standout creatives?

If I’m talking about illustration, I have always admired the work of Stanley Chow, he has a real skill for capturing the essence of a person. If I’m talking about graphics I’d say the work of Jimmy Turell, I love the multi layered, screen print aesthetic of his work. Studio Blupp are absolutely killing it as well at the moment, there work is so fresh and exciting.



So, for my final question, what’s next for you?

That’s always the question I ask myself. Hopefully to keep learning. I never wanted to just be the teacher or lecturer, the one thing that I’ve learnt over time is that it really is a two-way conversation.

I tend to take on as much new knowledge and learning as I (hopefully) share with students. From a creative point of view, I like the freedom to explore my options. It might be that a photographic brief fulfils something I need at that time, or it could be an animation or a video piece that I really want to be part of. At the moment, I am playing with generative typography and design languages. I like to have an open mind and work on what comes my way, in whatever way feels right. I like to take it day by day.

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