Behind the Studio – Millie Riley

Behind the Studio where we look closer to home and find out more about the people behind Nomad, this time with Millie Riley, Junior Strategist.


What’s your journey in the industry so far?

It started back in school when I used to spend my time designing and formatting the boards of student’s work in the school corridors. Although ‘corridor board designer’ isn’t really a job title I took forward into later life, I did take something else; working in the creative industry was non-negotiable to me. I moved on from my corridor days to studying Graphic Communication and Design at the University of Leeds, where I developed the skills of a graphic designer and the thought process of a creative.

I’ve followed the pretty standard journey of a designer. I interned at a few places in London before my Year in Industry where I landed a year-long placement as a Graphic Designer at a web design and branding agency outside of Leeds. Although these opportunities were big insights into the inner workings of the creative industry, I wasn’t getting that ‘this what I want to do’ feeling. I realised that working as a graphic designer wasn’t for me.

When people say ‘it’s all about who you know, not what you know’, it doesn’t really hit home until it actually happens to you. Once I worked out that the strategy phase of the creative process was the one for me, I applied and was accepted to study a Masters in Design Innovation at Glasgow School of Art. At the same time, a university friend and now fellow Nomad put me in touch with the guys at Nomad. I hadn’t really got any experience working in strategy. Nomad had never hired anyone like me before. But both of us took a chance on each other, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. And the best part is I feel like I’m only getting started!


What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career so far?

Though I’m pretty new to the game, without a shadow of a doubt the hardest challenge I’ve faced is what to do with a graphic design degree when you don’t want to be a graphic designer. I didn’t really enjoy using the tools. I didn’t really enjoy the ‘making’. But I did enjoy the thinking. In fact, I loved it. The ideation phase of the design process; exploring the user, analysing the trends, writing the narrative, discussing with designers. When it came to actually designing and bringing to life my ideas, it felt more like a chore than a reward for all the work I had done.

I thought I would have to spend the next phase of my life as a half-hearted designer if I ever wanted to work in the industry that I had been so passionate about for so long.

When I found out that creative strategy was even a thing, let alone a career option, I jumped on it, saw a light at the end of the tunnel and finally found my ‘thing’ in the creative industry. My only regret in all of this… I wish I had discovered it earlier.


What’s your favourite album cover?

I think I was about 14 when I first saw this photograph. It was during a RE class and though I can’t remember the details of this lesson I don’t think I can ever forget seeing the self-immolation of a Tibetan Buddhist monk on a busy road on a summer’s day in 1963. Combined with my bias towards the alt-metal and punk rock music genres, it’s only natural that the 1992 self-titled debut studio album from Rage Against the Machine is, to me, the greatest album cover of all time.

Visually, the cover is great. How well it fits the body of work, I think it’s a masterpiece. It was an absolute necessity that the unapologetic and defiant nature of the album had a cover that had the same shock factor. There is a lot of album cover artwork in the world that looks great. But in too many instances these same covers are never really able to capture the spirit of the musicians. That was until Malcolm Browne’s photo of Thích Quảng Đức was put on an album cover and became a bona fide classic.


What do you love to do?

I love activities that combine physical movements with skill and dexterity. I’ve always struggled to sit still and not do something with my hands, so I started to crochet for the physical motion, a kind of therapy. It started with really long ‘scarves’, aimlessly crocheting balls of wool just to go through the motion and have something to occupy my hands. But now it’s turned into a medium for my creativity. Sport and fitness are also a priority in my life. Netball and CrossFit are two sports in their own right, each with their own skillset and expertise but both sharing my knack for hand-eye coordination, clever movements, quick reactions and agility.

It’s achieving that tricky balance between the power of muscle and mind that I love most about these sports; they’re built upon repetitive training, compound movements and pushing your body to its physical limits whilst challenging your mental toughness and reactivity.


What does being creative mean to you?

I’ve definitely found that the further I move away from the physical tools of design, my perspective on what being creative is has also shifted. I used to owe part of my creativity to being half decent at sketching a logo and operating *a portion of* the Adobe Suite. But being half decent wasn’t enough for me, especially when my heart wasn’t in it. I’ve been through the process of identifying where my strengths and interests lie and am glad that I can bring my ideas to a team of incredible designers who take them to the next level.

Being creative now, in both my professional and personal life, has become more of a way of thinking and reasoning.

I see it as an intrinsic ability that when honed is solutionary in its approach to problems. I see it as something that goes beyond the traditional ways of thinking with an end goal of developing new ideas.

Words: Millie Riley
Header Photography: Kieran Perry
Editor: Craig Berry

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