Ricky Richards – “I ended up having full body fits from severe anxiety”
We get deep with creative entrepreneur Ricky Richards
This week I’m talking to Ricky Richards. Rick and I were on the same graphic design course at University back in 2009. During that time, I pushed myself to create new and innovative projects and become a better designer. He may not know this (until now), but it was Rick and his relentless ambition that kept my foot on the gas pedal. Think of it as a sort of James Hunt / Niki Lauda relationship.
All these years later and Ricky Richards is still plugging away with the gusto an eight-year-old during a lock-on at Toys R Us.
I thought that now would be a good time to catch up with him and find out what he’s been up to.
Firstly, for our readers, tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
My name is Ricky Richards. I was born in 1990, in a small village on the south coast of England. My two loves growing up were sport and art, and when I realised I’d never become a professional athlete, I ploughed all my energy into Design.
Nowadays I’m basically a professional polymath. I’m an Art Director by title, but I still do a lot of design. I build and market a number of web projects, host my own podcast, teach workshops to students and upcoming design professionals and do a lot of public speaking.
You chose to go to a University that had one of the poorest ratings for the course on which you embarked. What made you choose Worcester University, and, do you think that those ratings had a tangible effect on your time there?
Honest answer- I went to Worchester because I had a passion for basketball, and they had the best basketball team in the country! Neither of my parents went to college, let alone university, so I received very little guidance from them.
While I don’t regret the experiences and friends I made there, I do slightly regret going to Worcester. I encourage students to look at a university like a brand. When you start your career, you have no track record or reputation, and the best way to build some resemblance of one is to leverage the reputation of the place where you studied.
Also, while the additional expense of living in a city like London or New York may seem like a lot, I think the contacts you’ll make there will be invaluable. One of the big struggles I faced moving to London was having a lack of friends. It had taken several lonely years before I felt like I had anything resembling a life here. If I’d studied here, I might have already established that by the time I entered the industry.
On the subject of Universities, there’s often a debate as to whether the best path to a design career is academic (University) or placements (internship) based. What are your thoughts?
I was in the final year of students to go through university before the fee hike, so luckily, I was okay. Nowadays, if I were a student, I wouldn’t go near university unless I wanted to become something that really required a degree like a doctor or Lawyer for example. It’s just too much debt to undertake.
As a creative, you’re better off using the numerous online resources that keep getting better and better. For example- Code Academy, Masterclass, Skillshare, Lynda and good old Youtube. There are hundreds of educational platforms now where the teachers are reputable figures at the top of their game. What this does presume is that students are self-motivated. I’ve also heard the argument from old lecturers that students need the structure given at University. My argument would be that if you’re not motivated enough to educate yourself about a particular subject, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it anyway.
In 2010, you were rushed to hospital for emergency brain surgery. What was going through your mind at that time, and, what’s your response to the many people who say you’ve been living as a semi-mongoloid ever since?
I honestly thought I was going to die, and to those who believe I’m a semi-mongoloid, they’re probably not too far wrong. In all seriousness though, growing up I had two near life-threatening accidents, and it made me appreciate life from a very young age. I’ve since discovered that the bigger the hurdle, the more you learn and the more resilient you become. I kind of wish everyone had a life threatening experience at a young age. It would stop many people squandering what precious time they have.
Many people working in the creative industries become disenchanted and unpassionate about their chosen career. How have you avoided this pitfall?
It’s fairly controversial of me to say, but I don’t love graphics or advertising that much. I think this surprises people because of how much of it I’ve done and how much time I’ve ploughed into it. For me, what I love is learning and thinking. Going right back to college I’ve always loved the idea that designers question everything.
I’m always trying to figure stuff out and to see life as a big game/design challenge that I’m constantly playing. I think that’s why I gravitate towards the creative industry in general, because I personally feel the best of anything always feels designed, but that the design philosophy itself transcends just creative work. It’s about looking at the cards you’ve got, and trying to figure out how to play them in such a way that life improves for yourself and others. That might be a logo, advertising campaign or website, or it could simply be choosing how to get to work in the morning and who to spend your down time with.
Let’s talk about your podcast Ricky Richards Represents. What led you to start the podcast?
Podcasts are the best medium I’ve found for passively learning and last year I listened to over 1000 hours of podcasts. It got to the stage where every other sentence that came out my mouth started with…. “I heard this really interesting thing on a podcast the other day”… one day my coworker said to me, “you’ve got to shut up about other people’s podcasts and do one yourself.” He was right; it was on my bucket list of things to do already.
So I started small, with an entry level USB microphone. I tapped into my network and started recording friends who I knew had interesting things to say and then worked my way up. Now, just 25 episodes in, I’m recording Ricky Richards Represents at one of the best recording studios in London and I’ve had some amazing guests on the show. I get to meet and learn from some incredibly inspiring people, and they get to share their experiences with an audience. So it’s a win, win situation!
What challenges have you found with the podcast medium, and how have you overcome them?
The interviewing is the fun part, editing, uploading and adding show notes takes forever. Reaching out to guests also takes time, and it’s surprising how many people turn down the opportunity to be interviewed. I never expected it to be easy though and I went into the project with low expectations. I’d never interviewed anyone before, all I had was the understanding of what made podcasts good, and the desire to work my way to that over time. The podcast is the first large project that I can say I genuinely love doing even though it makes me no money. I just love meeting inspiring people.
Who would be the ultimate living person that you would like to feature on the podcast?
Probably Jacque Fresco. He’s 101 years old and the guys a god damn legend. He was talking about self-driving cars and the potential of geothermal energy 50 years ago. He’s such a wise man and doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves for his ideas. Even in my short life so far I’ve seen many of the things he talks about being adopted and credited elsewhere, but I think he’s the source for much of it.
I have to say though… if anyone knows how I can connect with Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell, George Lois, Michael Bierut or Dieter Rams. Let me know; I’ll be eternally grateful.
I know you said living, but If I could pull anyone from the grave I would have liked to have interviewed Seneca- he’s got some wisdom that man! If people reading this haven’t heard of stoic philosophy, I encourage them to do some digging; it’s as applicable today as it’s ever been and it’s a great guide for life.
Name the personal and professional design projects of which you are most proud and the reason for your choices?
I hate almost all my work, but I think that’s fairly normal for creatives to be self-critical. My favourite personal projects of late are probably my ‘Move Me Mailing List,’ which I use to share interesting things I find each month. I like the fact I can contribute to sharing what I believe is genuinely good work and insights that can help others to move forward. I ask myself what I would want to land in my inbox once a month, and the responses I get from it shows that other people see the value too.
Secondly, I recently released a little side project called ‘Creative Catalogue,’ which is my attempt at categorising advertising into their overarching approaches. I use this as a teaching tool, but it’s also extremely useful for people who want to come up with advertising ideas fast.
It’s really popular among advertising graduates because it helps them to understand how formulaic creative ideas are. Once you understand these approaches inside out and you can recall examples to memory, it’s much easier to sell ideas and push the boundaries. It’s free at the moment while I flesh the site out, but I do intend to charge a small monthly fee at the start of 2018.
Lastly, professionally, I recently designed a new identity for a fantastic charity called ‘Tomorrow’s People.’ It’s not gone live yet, but it could be one of the nicest bits of design I’ve done to date, and it’s for a great cause and not just selling more crap to people.
What is your biggest professional regret?
When I was just starting out in London, I got talked into joining an editorial fashion startup called ‘The Business of Fashion.’ I joined because the founder, Imran Amed, is an inspiring guy. He’s so articulate and intelligent that I wanted to do a great job for him. The problem was, I just hated the industry. It’s everything I can’t stand; superficiality, arrogance, ego, consumerism and bitchiness to name a few. I’d go home, and I’d toil with myself, trying to work out what to do with myself in my career.
It resulted in me having a complete meltdown. I wasn’t sleeping, and I ended up having full body fits from severe anxiety. I left the company having embarrassed myself and made a terrible impression professionally. I learnt the hard way that the best way to be happy with your work is to align what you do with your values. Ever since then I’ve remained quite zen, because I realised that there’s more to life than work and there’s no point getting stressed about it.
We all live to fight another day and the things you worry about today, you probably won’t remember a week from now. I remind myself to always put stuff into perspective, if no one is dying, then I’m still a white man living a privileged existence in a safe and prosperous country. What have I got to complain about?
It’s been five years since you graduated in 2012. Where do you see yourself in another five years?
I’m quite happy with my current life; I don’t want for anything really. That being said, the goal I’m working towards is to attain creative freedom, which I define as having complete control of my creative output. The way I think I’ll achieve that is by buying a small home in my hometown in Devon, outright, so that my outgoings are minuscule and then I can take on a few enjoyable projects a year to pay for food and bills, and then the rest of my time I’ll plough into projects that, should I die tomorrow, will make me feel content in the knowledge that I did all I could to put some meaningful work in the world. At my current trajectory, I should be able to achieve the house part in the next 5-10 years. And then I’ll just have the meaningful work left to do.
And finally, if Ricky Richards died and got reincarnated as a song what would that song be?
Layer Cake by Kano. I have to say though, I’m not into music at all, I see it as a huge waste of time, so my suggestion is probably rubbish. I do admire the hip-hop and grime scene though. There aren’t many other scenes where you see young people, mostly from terrible starting points in life, appreciating the hustle, grind and value of marketing that it takes to break through in any field.
I like this song because it’s his internal dialogue spoken honestly, addressing the numerous hurdles he’s attempting to overcome. It’s not a cheerful song, but I like the transparency and how aware of himself he is. He sees himself as a pawn in a game of musical chess that he’s attempting to play and win. Anyone who listens to grime will know subsequently that he did pretty well for himself, and nowadays he seems happy and content in his own skin, so clearly he played the game well.