Why NOT Working With Nike Was The Best Thing For My Design Career
Anyone who knows me well knows that my ultimate ambition is to be commissioned on a design project by Nike. Ever since I knew I wanted to pursue a career in sports design, I have dreamt of working with the global sports brand. Why? Well, to be brutally honest, I would say it comes down to the fact that being commissioned by the most iconic sports brand on the planet, for me, serves as the highest form of validation that I’m actually good at what I do. That, and the fact that I would probably get a tonne of kick-ass trainers out of it to add to my ever-growing collection… but mostly the whole ~giving my career validation thing~. Yet, when I look back now on when I narrowly lost out on an opportunity to work for the multinational sports brand a few year back, my failure to clinch the ‘dream job’ turned out to be a great blessing in disguise… and here’s why.
Back in 2016, during my second year of university, I applied for a twelve month internship with Nike at their headquarters in London. I had seen a job posting online, filled out the application form, and waited patiently to never hear anything of it. However, after a few months of resuming normal university life and it being pushed to the back of my mind, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I received an email from their HR inviting me to have a Skype interview. I remember running into my flatmate’s room that morning and screaming at her with utter disbelief and excitement that I may have an actual shot at working for the holy grail. Of course, having rudely interrupted her blissful lie-in, she didn't care all that much for this piece of information. But that didn’t matter. I’d blagged an interview with Nike. Nothing else in the world mattered!
"Act like you are someone to be noticed and valued, even if you don’t quite believe it yourself."
Anyway, to cut a long story short, after one Skype interview, two back-to-back assessment days at their London headquarters, and one terrifying face-to-face interview with the people at Nike, I was gutted to narrowly miss out on landing the job. But that’s not to say I regret going for it. For one, it was a massive confidence boost and a fantastic learning curve for future competitive processes in the design industry. Secondly, it helped me be more resilient and take rejection on the chin, which I think is massively important for any young person wanting to succeed in a competitive market. I was also proud of the fact that when it came to whittling down over six thousand applicants to just a mere handful, I had made the cut. And of course, even to have the opportunity to visit Nike's headquarters in London was an incredible experience and a great insight into how their creative team operates. A few years on and I'm starting to recognise the value in taking leap of faith every now and again but, above all, the importance of valuing yourself.
First and foremost, don’t consider yourself small. Whether you’re starting your own business, or applying for a role you think is slightly beyond your reach, or simply networking with others, act confident. Act like you are someone to be noticed and valued, even if you don’t quite believe it yourself. Just recently I have been actively reaching out to other creatives whose work I admire as a way of trying to get myself out there and grow my presence in the design community. To shoot an email to two creative people has become an integral part to my daily routine. It’s the very first thing I do once I’m at my desk. And guess what... I’ve had responses. Yes, actual responses from people whose work I’ve admired for years.
And it’s made me think… why did I not do this years ago? Why have I shied away for so long? The answer is I’ve thought myself too small and too insignificant for anyone ‘big’ in the design community to bother messaging me back. But creative people put their email addresses online as they want to communicate with others, right? Creative people LOVE to hear that you think their work is great. Creative people want to work with other creative people. And yes, they may have had a few more years in the industry but that doesn’t mean they’re bigger and better than you! So stop considering yourself small. The sooner you believe that you’re somebody, the sooner other people will treat you like you’re somebody. And if you don’t believe it just yet, pretend. ~Fake it ’til you make it~ and all that!
"The naivety and drive we have as youngsters is a blessing and something we tend to take for granted."
Secondly, vocalise your ambitions. This is an important one. No matter how big or how crazy they may seem, or how stupid you may feel saying them out loud, let others know what you dream of achieving in your career. For example, not too long ago I spoke with a design agent and they asked me, "Who is your dream client?" Of course, within the mix of various big sports brands, I mentioned Nike. And to my amazement this agent said that he actually does quite a bit of work with Nike and could try and get my portfolio in front of their team…. what?! Now, of course, I’m not waiting on the end of the phone expecting a call from Nike. But this made me realise that, whilst at first I felt naive and slightly silly sharing with this design agent of my 'dream' clients, you never know who people have links with and therefore it's always worth a shot! It goes with the whole ~if you don’t ask, you don’t get~ kind of thing. So do it. Vocalise your ambitions… no matter how foolish it makes you feel.
Conceptual designs for Nike's 'Witness' campaign - celebrating the career of NBA superstar LeBron James.
Another thing... let rejection motive you. Yes, I know it’s a cliché but it’s true. When I found out I hadn’t got the job with Nike I was pretty gutted. But I didn’t dwell on it or let it dishearten me. In fact, often rejection can put some things in perspective. In my case, I realised that it wasn’t even a permanent job at Nike that I wanted. As I’ve always had it in my heart that I want to ~do my own freelance thing~, I realised that what I really wanted was to be commissioned by sports brands, for projects that, based on my portfolio, creative directors see me fit to execute. So, if anything, the whole experience of being rejected by Nike made me more determined and gain more clarity. It made me want to hone my skills, build my portfolio, and get myself out there!
"It's important to value yourself as a designer regardless of how prestigious a client list you boast."
Finally, don't value yourself based on your client list. As I said in the beginning, to work with Nike is my ultimate ambition. But in a sense, this is for all the wrong reasons. Of course, to commissioned by the major sports brand would be an incredible accomplishment. But I shouldn't hold out for this job in order to feel validated as a designer. That validation needs to happen now. It's important to value yourself as a designer regardless of how prestigious a client list you boast. And above all, aim for the stars, but don't pin your happiness on whether or not these idealised ambitions of yours happen or not. There's more to life!
So I strongly believe that every young creative needs to put themselves through an experience like I did with Nike early on in their career. The naivety and drive we have as youngsters is a blessing and something we tend to take for granted. Often as we get older this ballsiness dwindles and we shy away from these kind of opportunities due to worry and fear. It’s definitely a goal of mine to maintain this fearless, go-getting attitude for as long as I can. The nature of these competitive things is good for ambitious designers. Any opportunity with a high level of competition and gruelling selection process helps build resilience and the motivation to do better next time. It also helps you better understand yourself and what you want from your career.
So do I wish I’d got the job at Nike all those years ago? The honest answer is no. Not one bit. Do I still want to work for Nike? Absolutely… I’m just not pinning my happiness and self-worth on it.