People who make places: Jasper Sutherland

Jasper Sutherland

How do you describe what you do when someone in your family asks?

I guess it depends on how long it’s been since I’ve seen them and how long they’ve got! In the broadest sense I’m a designer. I work for make:good, a small community-oriented interdisciplinary design studio. I do a lot of graphics and illustration which is what I studied, but also I design and build sets, places, props, pop-ups and products. The ethos of our studio is to involve people in local change so I also do a lot of work with communities and young people.

What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

I used to work in theatre design and I was one of the lead designers for an overnight production of Macbeth. It was set across three floors of the Balfron tower in East London. It was insane and very ambitious –  the audience arrived in groups of 10 at 10 minute intervals and had their own apartment for the evening. There were 3 sets of the cast and 9 apartments that we had to decorate and furnish like they were from the 1970s. The budget was tiny – the pay even tinier – the hours were mad and it nearly broke me but the people were wonderful and I had so much fun and the experience was incredible. It is one of the best things I’ve done and I’m really proud of it.

What aspect of your work gives you the best feeling?

I really like making things with my hands and the satisfaction of seeing an idea come into reality. I also really like how varied the different projects are and how varied my role is. I’ve never been happy with the idea of doing the same thing every day – I’m good at and enjoy lots of things so I’m glad I don’t only have to do one thing. I’m more of a generalist than a specialist so this job is perfect for me in that sense. In my job at make:good I also get to work with lots of people from all sorts of backgrounds which is really interesting and rewarding.

What keeps you awake at night?

Very little. I could sleep standing up on a train! I think I’ve had 2 sleepless nights in my entire life. But actually when I was studying and when I do freelance bits I do like working at night. There are no distractions, it’s quiet and you can get into a real flow. If I’m enjoying what I’m doing (or have a deadline looming) I can work straight through till dawn.

What does your work now have to do with what you studied, if at all?

I studied International Relations and Development Studies for my undergraduate degree, but went on to do a Masters in Communications Design studying Illustration and Graphics – which is a big part of what I do now. I learned a lot about visual language and design thinking but a lot of what I bring to my work comes from other experiences too. For me, going back to Uni and studying something creative, more than skills, it gave me the confidence to shift my career and to feel as though I could legitimately identify as a designer, which is quite important.

What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career like yours?

If we talk about career paths my ‘career’ has been very meandering… And the better for it I think. The idea of a career can feel quite pressurised, but I really don’t think everyone has to have a straightforward career path anymore.

Don’t start by getting too hung up on ‘what’ you want to do or even how you’re going to do it. I think it’s really important to think about ‘why’. The sooner you get to know what motivates you the more interesting you’re career becomes. Also don’t worry if you change your mind – there are jobs within really interesting sectors out there that you haven’t even dreamed of and you could end up doing any of them once you get in the door – so really don’t get too hung up on the what.

Make opportunities happen but also be prepared to take them as they come too – also get used to saying yes and learning fast – you can learn almost anything on Youtube. You shouldn’t be scared of making mistakes but let them be because you are pushing yourself, not just being sloppy. My tutor at University always said that we should make more mistakes – because it means you are learning and also that you are trying and taking risks.

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Jasper working with children in the Cultivate project Exploring Nine Elms
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