From Bristol to Boston: A designer's journey


One of the things that interests us about design is how it translates from one country to another, even from one continent to another. Design in itself is meant to be 'universal', most of the time. But how does it work when you leave your country and go and design on the other side of the world? Lidia's friend Hilary, who she used to work with in Bristol, made this move a few years ago and swapped good old Bristol for Boston, USA. Here's how she got on, in case you're thinking of taking the leap!

1) Why did you choose to go and live in Boston?

I moved to Boston as my husband got a job over there. I didn't know anything about the city or indeed New England but once we knew we were going, I did some research and was really excited to be living there. It's a fabulous city and really great part of America. We actually lived in a city called Cambridge, which is on the other side of the Charles River to Boston, but they share an underground train network so feel very much like one massive city. Cambridge is where Harvard and MIT Universities are located, we could walk to both from our apartment, and it was a really friendly and vibrant area with lots going on.

2) What were your initial thoughts when you got there?

It was nerve-wracking at first as we felt so far away from everyone and everything that we knew. It tool a while to settle in, find an apartment and familiarise ourselves with the city and learn how to get from A to B. It was also so surprising that despite speaking the same language we often had misunderstandings with Americans about what we were saying, whether it was ordering a drink in a cafe to conversations with new friends. The Boston accent is pretty strong so it took a while to tune into it!

3) Did it take you long to find the job role you were looking for?

I started looking for a job about 5 months after moving to Boston, once we had found a permanent apartment and properly settled into our new life. I signed up to a number of job search websites as well as using Google to simply search for design agencies in Boston and Cambridge. I went to a couple of interviews with small start up firms (Boston has a huge start-up community) but I eventually was offered a full-time job within the design team of a PR company based in the centre of Boston. It was roughly 1 month after I started looking.

4) How did you find the design industry over in the US, compared to that in the UK?

I thought the design industry in the US, was pretty similar to that of the UK. There was a real mix of agency types and sizes, from tiny bijoux companies to large international offices. There was some really lovely design work going on locally and I made a point of trying to find out who had designed some of the things I particularly admired.

5) What was the biggest challenge you faced?

For me the biggest challenge was getting into 'the groove' of designing for an American audience. I learnt that title case is often preferred to sentence case which usually went against my own design judgement/preference. Also CAPITAL LETTERS were used far more than I was used to, to emphasise a point etc. It took me quite a long time to get used to using inches as the standard measure rather than centimetres, plus they don't use the A4, A3, A2 etc paper sizing, so everything I designed always felt like it was to odd shapes and sizes.

6) Was it a good experience and would you recommend doing it?

It was a great experience and I absolutely loved it. I think leaving your comfort zone and trying something new is always rewarding even if it doesn't work out quite as you might imagine. I was lucky to have found a job in a really warm and welcoming company - everyone worked hard but they did make a lot of effort to play hard too and the we often had company treats ranging from office lunches to trips out in the evening.

7) What did you miss most about working and living in the UK?

Living-wise, I missed my family and friends, the time difference was often frustrating as I used to use my UK commute to call people for a catch up, but I wasn't able to do that from America. We had plenty of UK visitors so it was really great to show them round our new home and city, especially throughout the year as New England is such an area of weather extremes - enjoying really hot summers but also very cold snowy winters.

Working-wise, I didn't really miss much about the UK (apart from 'cm and mm' perhaps!) I was doing quite different design work in Boston to my previous job in the UK so it was an interesting change and good to expand my experience.

8) What tips would you give someone who is thinking about doing it?

Just to 'go for it' really. Try to embrace the differences you encounter and enjoy the new challenges. I really enjoyed my 2 years of living in America, and working there was such a great way to become more part of the whole thing. By chatting to colleagues I heard about loads of places I think it's unlikely I'd have found on my own, so it was great to get so much local knowledge. It also developed the way I think about designing as I came to realise that what might have worked for a UK brand identity etc. wouldn't necessarily work for an American one.