Interview: Harpreet Jowhal on Digital Design, Art Direction, and the Advertising Industry

12:00 pm


Meet Harpreet Jowhal, a digital designer and art director from London. She's worked with clients such as Mini, The Body Shop, Virgin, H&M, and Balenciaga on design and advertising campaigns, and says that she's 'obsessed with beautiful things'. We chatted about the cut throat advertising industry, her creative backgrounds, and augmented reality, so if you want to know more about digital design and art direction, read on!


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Harpreet! Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do?

Harpreet Jowhal:
Hiya, I am Harpreet - A love for all things creative - I live and breathe in colour, am obsessed with beautiful things, love to travel, a little nutty, and obsessed with shopping! I also am an experimental foodie.

Whether you want to tell the story of your brand and product, design a campaign, or invigorate your brand's presence - social or otherwise - I can help. I work with businesses both small and large covering creative direction, visual design, branding, and creative strategy. I have also started to get more into bespoke wedding stationary, illustration, and other delightful paper goodies, having always had a love of stationary and drawing.

Magic & Musings:
First thing's first: when did you first get into digital design and art direction? Is this something you've been formally trained in?

Harpreet Jowhal:
Since 2007 - so I've been in the industry for almost ten years now! Not exactly, no. I studied Computer Science with Media Technology. This was comprised of electronics, physics, coding using C++ and JavaScript, and anywhere I could pick a creative module I would. I chose 3D animation with Maya, Flash (yes, they had flash back in those days), filming, and editing using Premier and Photoshop.

I like to teach myself and learn new things all the time. From picking up new industry software packages to short courses. I took the 6-week 100 Design Projects at Central St. Martins which encourages you to use nothing but paper, raw materials, and basics for creative expression for each brief you are set. Challenging yourself to think outside the box is imperative and definitely the way I like to tackle every project I work on.


Magic & Musings:
Moving forward then, how did you first break into the industry?

Harpreet Jowhal:
During university, I decided to get as much work experience as I could. Anything remotely related to the words 'media' or 'multi-media' I would apply for it - from re-sizing images for a company updating NFL websites, to designing random things for screensaver content. In my final year of university I got some part-time work experience working for a publishing house in Mayfair. I then got a call from Yahoo for a part-time internship within the marketing department that I had applied for six months prior.

It was there I was mentored by various members of the marketing team - from project managers and developers to strategists and SEO specialists. I got catapulted into a world I knew very little about. I designed email signatures, posts, and presentations, coded a few emails, and helped the project managers plan and run a few events - putting into practice what I was learning at university as well as developing my skillset.

While I was there I knew I wanted to work within Advertising and Marketing. They offered me a permanent position but within the development team and I knew I wanted something more creative. The terminology 'digital design' was a new concept but I got a call from a recruiter who said she had a job at a growing agency - AKQA. They got me in for an interview. They loved the diversity of my extra-curricular activities and accolades (I am a classically trained pianist!) and got hired there and then. That's where my journey really began.

Magic & Musings:
Would you say that digital design and art direction is a particularly difficult field to to get ahead in?

Harpreet Jowhal:
I would say yes - it always has been and maybe now even more so than ever. Without experience it is harder and harder to get into. It is very competitive. 

Magic & Musings:
This seems the case for more and more creative careers. What campaign or piece of work you've completed are you the proudest of, and why?

Harpreet Jowhal:
To this day, one of my favourite projects to work on has been 'My Forevermark Fitting' for De Beers, whilst working at AKQA. Built by Holition together with AKQA in 2011, the augmented reality app launched Forevermark's new Millemoi Collection. Using AR the app allowed you to try it on and move with it, in a seemingly real 3D environment. You could find your nearest jeweler, talk to and show your friends by incorporating social integration, and learn more about diamonds. I led the Creative, UX and Visual Design.


Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists and designers, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look to when you need some inspiration or motivation?

Harpreet Jowhal:
I would say other female artists that I admire and like are Melanie Johnsson, The Lovely Drawer, Katie Leamon, The Little Owl Studio, and Camille Walala to name a few. The world is full of inspiration and creative women and I follow their work closely on social media. When I need some motivation and inspiration I tend to look at anything and everything and have a bank of creative inspiration and resources that I refer to, whether than is other artists on social media, sits like Medium and Awwwards, or using Pinterest, which I love!

Magic & Musings:
What do you look for in good digital design and art direction, then??

Harpreet Jowhal:
I look for work that is really crafted and beautiful to look at, tells a great story no matter what the brand or business sector, has little quirks, and design that is considered and challenges itself to stand out from the crowd.

Magic & Musings:
Can you talk me through the process of creating a brand new campaign from scratch?

Harpreet Jowhal:
Well, the process does vary from project to project as they all have different needs and outcomes. In a very short summary - my starting point is to dissect the brief, assess the audience and the values of the intended outcomes, research and evaluate where the client may be in the current market place, and do some competitor research. The aim is to produce something of value and showcase the business in the best possible way.

Then I'll do some visual research, some brand work - create some moodboards and think about the organising and creative idea. What is that core thread or narrative that maps back to the proposition and intended outcome? There may be more than one - in the last project I worked on the conceptual phase had four organising ideas and four different routes - all expressing the business proposal in different ways. Present the ideas to the client, narrow it down, refine, and ta-da!


Magic & Musings:
I'm interested in knowing how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done? A specific hot drink? A relaxing album?

Harpreet Jowhal:
As a person, I am definitely more productive in the mornings and with people around me. Due to the nature of being a freelancer I tend to move all over London to companies of various sizes. Obviously working from home from time-to-time on solo projects or additional work, but I definitely prefer to be among people you can bounce off. I tend to start the day with a coffee, and music is a must! What I listen to depends on my mood as my music taste is quite varied. Could be anything from a jazz playlist to the latest hip-hop tracks.

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Harpreet Jowhal:
There's a number of things as this does happen from time-to-time. Usually my method is something - take a step back and focus on something else. Go for a walk, take in some fresh air, or take a coffee break and stimulate my mind with other thoughts and do something different for a bit.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Harpreet Jowhal:
I wish people would have told me how hard and cut throat it can be. The advertising industry can be extremely competitive and I feel as a woman you have to prove yourself that bit more.

Magic & Musings:
Fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Harpreet Jowhal:
Ooh, book-wise one of my favourites in my adult life has been Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori. Absolutely beautifully written, captivated me throughout, and I felt so immersed in the story from start to finish. I love a book that lets my imagination run wild. Music-wise, my mum has always been into jazz and I have got more and more into it as I get older. I feel like it calms me.

Magic & Musings:
I absolutely adore that series! I remember getting it out of the library over and over many moons ago. Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Harpreet Jowhal:
Just want to say thank you for writing about me - I always think it's great to celebrate women in the creative industries. I am all about female empowerment and encouraging other women. If you are interested in finding out more about me and my work, you can view my portfolio at harpreetjowhal.co.uk. My latest happenings can be viewed on Instagram @harpreetjowhal.

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