A month ago I featured Ulrike Schulz the founder of FoundSomePaper and The Social Hunter in my new cycle of posts Nation of Dreamers. Today I would like to introduce you to Caz Brett, a digital product designer at the BBC and a freelance graphic designer. I’m delighted to share with you a story of this brave and talented woman and how she embraced creativity in her career.
I first met Caz a year ago in short course in Graphic Design in Central Saint Martins. Her balanced sense of aesthetics and quirky sense of humor that appeared in her design mock ups charmed me immediately. A few months after we completed the course our paths crossed again when Caz organized a meeting to brainstorm ideas to create a self published magazine. When I was thinking of people to feature in Nation of Dreamers, Caz was one of the first people that came to my mind. I was really curious how she got such a cool job despite coming from a completely different background. A few weeks ago I told her about Nation of Dreamers project and invited her for a coffee to tell me about her story.
We visited a little cozy colorful cafe at Mile End. When I asked ‘Tell me your story. I want to know how you got where you are now’, she began much earlier than I expected.
Caz started her story from learning how to write. She told me how from the very first time she put together words on paper, she became obsessed with writing down all the details of her vivid imagination. As a little girl she had piles and piles of notebooks filled with ideas, images and feelings. She wrote down her dreams and recurring nightmares. As she was growing up writing took a form of escapism for her. She would pour down on a paper all the things she found difficult to talk about. All the dark thoughts and worries transformed into beautiful and complex sentences as she learned and improved her writing techniques.
At secondary school, Caz won a writing competition; the award for the winner was to meet a successful writer and learn more about writing as a career. Caz talked about the encounter with disappointment. The author turned out to be an obnoxious, chauvinistic and self-centered man. That led the 14 year old girl to believe that if she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a writer, she would have to becom equally self-centered herself. Troubled by the idea of turning into someone like him, Caz stopped writing. As this was her primary way of dealing with emotions, giving up her passion swept her quite deeply into a depression, which Caz would struggle with on and off for years. During our conversation, Caz felt it was important to talk openly about the chronic depression she has dealt with for almost all her life.
After graduating university Caz started a job in with a management consultancy. Her role was within business improvement, which was essentially working with clients to fix problems and make things better. She found that empathy and the ability to understand human emotions really helped her in the new job. Experiences with depression and feeling lost allowed her to relate to people. However, the initial excitement at the potential of her role to help others quickly wore off and she started disliking the job.
She told me about a conversation with a manager when she shared her excitement about being involved with a local theatre company. Immediately, the manager took her to one side and told her that it was unwise to talk about such things in the work environment as it could look like she was not dedicated enough to her current job. Situations like that happened every now and again when Caz would dress in colourful clothes or in any way stick out from the environment. Working culture in which the slightest inability to conform and a tiniest spark of individualism was immediately addressed as inappropriate gradually led Caz to despise the work even further.
It took several years to leave the firm, and Caz took a leap of faith jumping into a role in a completely different sector – a far more creative one. Despite the negative experiences at the consultancy, she sold her consultancy skills and joined a small team managing internal business improvement for a technical area of the BBC. Leaving the consultancy and joining the BBC was one of the best decisions Caz made. Sadly, in the first year of joining a new team – doing a similar job, but in a happier and healthier working environment – she struggled with a number of health conditions, and her health deteriorated. During a business trip to Ireland, she fainted, and within a couple of weeks was in hospital in a very serious condition.
The problems with health were really a breaking point in Caz’s life. Lying there, sedated and on a drip, she had a massive wake-up call. When she nearly faced death, she realized that she had spent so many years trying to fit in that she forgot to take time for herself and truly live.
Following her recovery and on coming back to work, Caz started socializing more with friends at work and took up drawing as a new hobby. Encouraged by a supportive friend at work, she started learning more about design and using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. After a few months she left her job to pursue a career as director of operations at an emerging startup The Recipe Kit. The job has allowed her to further develop her skills in branding, the creative process, and best practice when setting up a company. After a few months Caz’s and The Recipe Kit’s paths parted as she took two months break to fully concentrate on improving her design skills and learn the right tools. After the period of these two months she came back to BBC, originally as a consultant piecing together requirements and putting together wireframes for mobile apps. She quickly developed an interest in UX (user experience) and product design, discovering a love and talent for designing how people interact with digital products, and currently designs web and mobile products. At her current job Caz is responsible for a variety of tasks ranging from designing colour palettes, creating style guides, designing icons and graphics and creating copy and mockups of apps. She talked with a lot of appreciation about her current boss who gives her a lot of freedom at work and an opportunity to explore her full potential.
We spent entire afternoon talking about design. Caz holds an opinion that design is much more about analysis and improvement of what works and what doesn’t than just ability to draw. “That’s why I am so interested in User Experience. The design has to be thought through and intentional. It’s all about the process. If you are missing the process then you don’t really understand what you’re designing.” Caz told me that there is one thing she really understood about failures and feeling of falling apart after she was hospitalized. “People, very much like designs, are constructed of many little parts that work together. If you feel like you’re falling apart, you can always find something to put you back together.” When asked what she is currently working on, Caz told me about a number of side projects ranging from design of greeting cards to a secret technology project. Over a coffee we are talking a lot about social factor of promoting ideas and starting friendships to support each others effort in creating our ideas.
Writing this fascinating story and putting the pieces together took me a long time, yet I can’t resist the impression that Caz’s story is just right at the beginning. I can’t wait to see where the future will bring her and discover more exciting things she created. And remember, we may be dreamers, but only when we wake up and let our daydream become our life, magical things will happen and nightmares will pass.